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Author:Rev. G. I. Williamson
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 Orthodox Presbyterian Church - OPC
Title:The Beginning of True Love
Text:Song of Songs 1:2-2:7 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

The Shulamite

1:2 - Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth—for your love is better than wine.
1:3 - Because of the fragrance of your good ointments, your name is ointment poured forth; therefore the virgins love you.
1:4 - Lead me away!

The Daughters of Jerusalem

We will run after you.

The Shulamite

The king has brought me into his chambers.

The Daughters of Jerusalem

We will be glad and rejoice in you. We will remember your love more than wine.

The Shulamite

Rightly do they love you.

1:5 - I am dark, but lovely, O daughters of Jerusalem, like the tents of Kedar, like the curtains of Solomon.
1:6 - Do not look upon me, because I am dark, because the sun has tanned me. My mother’s sons were angry with me; they made me the keeper of the vineyards, but my own vineyard I have not kept.

(To her Beloved)

1:7 - Tell me, O you whom I love, where you feed your flock, where you make it rest at noon. For why should I be as one who veils herself by the flocks of your companions?

The Beloved

1:8 - If you do not know, O fairest among women, follow in the footsteps of the flock, and feed your little goats beside the shepherds’ tents.
1:9 - I have compared you, my love, to my filly among Pharaoh’s chariots.
1:10 - Your cheeks are lovely with ornaments, your neck with chains of gold.

The Daughters of Jerusalem

1:11 - We will make you ornaments of gold with studs of silver.

The Shulamite

1:12 - While the king is at his table, my spikenard sends forth its fragrance.
1:13 - A bundle of myrrh is my beloved to me, that lies all night between my breasts.
1:14 - My beloved is to me a cluster of henna blooms in the vineyards of En Gedi.

The Beloved

1:15 - Behold, you are fair, my love! Behold, you are fair! You have dove's eyes.

The Shulamite

1:16 - Behold, you are handsome, my beloved! Yes, pleasant! Also our bed is green.
1:17 - The beams of our houses are cedar, and our rafters of fir.

2:1 - I am the rose of Sharon, and the lily of the valleys.

The Beloved

2:2 - Like a lily among thorns, so is my love among the daughters.

The Shulamite

2:3 - Like an apple tree among the trees of the woods, so is my beloved among the sons. I sat down in his shade with great delight, and his fruit was sweet to my taste.
(The Shulamite to the Daughters of Jerusalem)

2:4 - he brought me to the banqueting house, and his banner over me was love.
2:5 - Sustain me with cakes of raisins, refresh me with apples, for I am lovesick.
2:6 - his left hand is under my head, and his right hand embraces me.
2:7 - I charge you, O daughters of Jerusalem, by the gazelles or by the does of the field, do not stir up nor awaken love until it pleases.
* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. G. I. Williamson, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

You know, congregation, it’s never an easy thing to understand what a poet is saying. You probably are aware of that. Sometimes you wonder just what does the poet mean here? When I was a university student many years ago, I majored in English literature. We studied many of the English poets, including of course one of the very greatest of all the writers in the English language, William Shakespeare, and to this day big books are being written by scholars trying to decide exactly what Shakespeare meant in certain places. And I discovered that even the experts don’t agree, and that’s true in every area of life.

So you not only have in poetry the problem of language, but when we’re dealing with Biblical poetry we have the problem of another language for this poem was written in Hebrew, and when you add to that the great differences between that time and our time, and that culture and our culture, you can see why I want to begin by saying that I don’t pretend to have the last word on everything in the Song of Solomon. And I don’t claim that I can fully explain every expression in this book. That’s one reason why I think it is wise to expound a book like this in larger blocks of material so that we really get the drift of it and pick up the thread of what’s unfolding in it. If we approach the book in this way, I believe we can be certain of its central teaching. Some of the details may indeed remain obscure, but I believe the main ideas that are being expressed are perfectly clear and certain. So what I want to do first of all tonight is to try to expound this section of God’s Word for you, and then in the concluding part of my message draw certain conclusions. So let me invite you to have your Bibles open as we look at this passage together. And as we do, I want to draw your attention to seven things that I believe are quite clear in this passage.

The first is that the poem begins with the words of this young woman who fell in love with the writer Solomon. This is evident from the gender of the pronouns in that passage: “Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth” and so it goes on down to where she says, “My mother’s sons were angry with me.” And then in the eighth verse of this passage the first speaker is further identified when she is addressed by whomever—it’s a kind of rhetorical, dramatic question addressed to the speaker up to that point—”If you do not know, most beautiful of women” then do this and so on. Now we don’t know who this girl was originally—what her name was, what family she came from, what tribe; it’s obvious, however, that she comes from a humble station in life because she even had to do a man’s work out in the vineyard. ‘Don’t stare at me’, she says, ‘because I am dark’. And why is she dark? ‘I’m darkened by the sun. My mother’s sons were angry with me and made me take care of the vineyard’. From his earliest days Solomon must have been surrounded by a bevy of beautiful women; at least, beautiful in terms of that day and that culture. They were probably pampered women who had milky white skin and all of the latest cosmetics. In contrast to this, this country girl feels herself to be at a great disadvantage. She’s dark, over-exposed to the sun, and because of all of the hard work she’s had to do out in the family vineyard, her own vineyard—which I take to be a figure of expression denoting her own beauty—she has been forced to neglect. It is this girl who longs for the love of the exalted ruler of Israel. It is this girl who has set her heart on the king of Israel.

The second thing that is clear from the passage is that her greatest beauty is the beauty of her character which shines out in her virtues. For her, love is not a game; it is not a series of clever flirtations, as it no doubt was for many in the court of the king. No, she has fixed her heart on the king and longs for his embraces. And you will notice that she does so not just because he is dashing and handsome, but also because of the quality of his person for she says, “Your name is like perfume poured out.” Now we do know that in Biblical times a name was very significant. A name wasn’t just something you looked up in a book until you found something that sounded good and then gave that name to the child. In the Bible a name was a real revelation of the person, and in Solomon’s case his name was his fame. He was known throughout the world in that day as the wisest man in the world because God had given him, had endowed him with, true wisdom. And that phrase, “Your name is poured forth like ointment,” is the same as saying your reputation is truly wonderful and beautiful. It summarized what he really was. The word “Solomon” means the “peace of God” and that’s what really did shine out of his character and person in the day that he was a young ruler over Israel because of his God-given wisdom.

And this is just as important to her as his kisses. She wants his kisses, the kisses of his mouth, but she also greatly values the quality of his character. And you can see that in verse three and again in verse four when she says it is only right that they adore this man. “No wonder the maidens love you,” she says, right after saying, “Your name is like perfume poured out.” And again she says in verse four, “How right they are to adore you.” When a person is not only good to look at, but truly excellent in every respect, then you can appreciate the fact that many other people are also drawn to admire, respect, and even love that person.

The third thing that we see in this passage is that this girl has a respect for the God-given role of male and female. More and more today in our culture, women are talking about being liberated as women. What does it mean—‘women’s liberation’? Well, it means that they don’t want to accept any more the role that God has given them. A lot of people think that if you have a role of subordination that makes you unequal, but that’s not true. Christ subordinated himself to the Father, but we know that he was equal with the Father. And so the idea that role subordination means less glory and honor is not true. And this girl did not want something other than the God-given role appointed to her sex, but she heartily embraced it, for you’ll notice that she wants him to take the initiative. Let him kiss me, she says. Take me away with you, she says. Let the king bring me into his chambers. All the way through this passage we read little expressions which clearly reveal the fact that she desires this man to take the initiative and be her leader as well as her lover.

Right there you can see the fourth thing, namely, that she has a big problem. How can a country girl, with all these apparent disadvantages, hope to have a chance with a man sought by so many women. You women will probably appreciate that problem—you want a man, and he’s desired by a hundred other women, what chance do you have? I think she’s expressing this thought in verse seven: “Tell me, you whom I love, where you graze your flock and where you rest your sheep at midday. Why should I be like a veiled woman beside the flock of your friends?” It’s a way of expressing, ‘how can I meet that man without doing something that is contrary to my own moral principles?’

Some commentators say that in verse eight you have friends speaking. That’s the way the translators of the New International Version have put it down. But that word “friends” is entirely the work of modern translators. It’s not in the Hebrew. We aren’t sure this was said by friends. Maybe it was an editorial comment by Solomon himself, a kind of an aside in which he expresses beforehand a kind of foreknowledge he has of the situation. But in the last analysis it doesn’t make any difference—it’s really a divine rhetorical question. God is the one who says, ‘If you don’t know, most beautiful of women, then follow the tracks of the sheep; you stick to what you’re doing and you’ll be all right’. And that is my view of the matter. It is a way of saying, You don’t have to invent some artificial method of meeting this man. You just stick to what you’re doing. You just be content with your lowly status, and God will take care of the rest. You see, she was wrong in thinking she would lose out because she was different, because she was in a lowly station. For the truth is that Solomon had already noticed her and had noticed her precisely because she was not like all the rest.

He expresses that in a very unusual way when he says, “I likened you, my darling, to a mare harnessed to one of the chariots of pharaoh.” Now I can’t prove it, but I think that what that means is this. Usually hitched up to the chariots of pharaoh were stallions, and don’t forget that Solomon was a horse lover. Archaeologists have dug up the remains of the stables of Solomon, and he had more horses than you could believe. And if that man saw a whole line of chariots with fifty stallions and one mare, you can depend on it: he would have noticed that fact. And he is saying that this woman stands out in contrast to all of those other women just as much as that mare would among the stallions of pharaoh. And you know I think there is a little of that in all of us. A modern poet has even expressed the same thing. When it comes to the natural and the artificial which would you rather have?

Henceforth I will not set my love
On other than the country lass,
For in the court I see and prove
Fancy is brittle as the glass.
What though in silver and in gold
The bonny lass be not so brave
Yet are her looks fresh to behold
And that is it that love doth crave.
Fair fall the petticoat of red
That veils the skin as white as milk,
And such as would not so be sped
Let them go coy the gowns of silk.
Keep, ladies, keep for your own turns
The Spanish red to mend your looks,
For when the sun my Daphne burns
She seeks the water of the brooks,
And though the musk and amber fine
So ladylike she cannot get,
Yet will she wear the sweet woodbine,
The primrose and the violet.

Give me Daphne any day! You see, she’s got that natural beauty, that unadorned beauty that God gives a lovely woman.

So while she’s pining away for Solomon, constantly thinking about him, he’s already thinking about her even before she knows it, already wanting her for his possession. Now in those days they didn’t have 24-hour deodorant that you used to smell good all day long. In those days the ladies wore a thing around their necks with some herbs inside a little bag and that was nicely hidden away where it would always give off a fragrant smell. And that’s what she’s talking about in verses 12-14. She is saying that her thoughts of this man are with her like a sweet perfume twenty-four hours a day. Have any of you ladies ever fallen in love and found that this was true? Twenty-four hours a day and you were thinking of that guy. Is that true? I think it is.

My lover is to me a sachet of myrrh
Resting between my breasts.
My lover is to me a cluster of henna blossoms
From the vineyard of Engedi.

The very nicest perfume that you can get comes from the vineyards of Engedi, and that’s what her thoughts all day long about this man really are. What a sweet aroma is the aroma of love.

Now the fifth thing is the fact that the language of love is the same in all generations. However many people speak there from verse 15 on, and wherever you make the divisions—and I’m not sure that all of them made by the translators are right, yet we know that some, at least, are because of the gender of the verbs and nouns—one thing is sure, and that is the fact that in every culture, in every generation, and in every language the talk of love is pretty much the same. “How beautiful you are my darling.” [NKJ: “Behold, you are fair, my love!”] have you ever heard that you ladies? “How beautiful your eyes, they’re like doves.” [NKJ: “Behold, you are fair! You have dove’s eyes.”] “How handsome you are, my lover.” [KJV: “Behold, you are handsome, my beloved!”] have you ever heard that? That’s the language of love, and if you’ve never spoken like that at some time in your life, then Cupid has not hit the bull’s eye where you are concerned. But if you have spoken like that at some time in your life, you know exactly what is going on in this passage. You don’t have to be an expert in interpreting every Hebrew word to see that. She has become to him the most beautiful thing in the world, and he has become to her the world’s most handsome and eligible bachelor.

And you know something—that always happens when this is going on. Suddenly the self-esteem and morale of that girl begins to zoom up higher and higher. At the beginning she was rather self-conscious for she said, ‘Don’t stare at me because I’m dark. I’m sunburned. You’ve got to make allowances for my appearance’. But after she’s heard him say a couple of times, ‘You’re beautiful, my darling. You’re eyes are like doves’, then she says, “I am a rose of Sharon, a lily of the valleys.” I’m not so bad, she says. Now she’s not claiming to be number one. Those flowers are rather modest, but they are beautiful, and she knows she’s beautiful now—he’s told her. Wouldn’t that convince her if he’s told her? And so she is now more self-conscious, but at the same time more confident, of her appearance. And I believe that this is always what happens in love, and it seems to me, by the way, that not only does she think she is more beautiful, but she really is. I’ve noticed that in my own children—when they fall in love and move toward marriage they seem to get more beautiful. It’s a fact, isn’t it? A fact of life—something begins to radiate out of their personality.

Well, the result of all this is, and this is my sixth point, that she’s already sure that she wants this man as her husband. And you can see that in 2:3-6. She says,

Like and apple tree among the trees of the woods,
So is my beloved among the son.
I sat down in his shade with great delight,
And his fruit was sweet to my taste.
He brought me to the banqueting house,
And his banner over me was love.
Sustain me with cakes of raisins,
Refresh me with apples,
For I am lovesick.

His left hand is under my head,
And his right hand embraces me.

Already she is expressing mentally her desire for the most intimate relationship with this man. And let us say the Bible isn’t prudish about sex. It doesn’t see it as something strange, something evil, or something to be ashamed of. It’s a natural thing, when this is happening, to be sick with love. It doesn’t mean sick of love; it means sick with love. Have you ever seen a lovesick girl? Have you ever been a lovesick boy? Well, there is such a thing. And yet at the same time we must not overlook the fact that she feels this in the context of respect for his person. You can see this from two things in this passage. First of all, she honors his headship, and her love is not only sexual desire. It is also oriented to his character, for she says,

I sat down in his shade with great delight,
And his fruit was sweet to my taste.

Now what does that mean? Well, it means this: a godly man has stability. His character is nourished by deep roots. And there’s something about him—a strength of character and so on—that makes her willing to rest under his shadow. And every woman ought to be able to see that kind of character in the man she falls in love with. It’s very dangerous to fall in love with a man of whom you cannot say ‘I can sit under that man’s shade’. If you can’t say that, better stop and look again.

And the second thing is “his banner over me is love.” Now what does that mean? If you were ever in the military service, you’ll know what a tremendously important thing a banner is. In some of the military units of the United States Army there are banners that have served since Civil War times, and it’s an honor to serve under that banner. When you go into battle, and you go into war, you are sometimes called upon for extraordinary feats of courage, and you would never in this world do it if you were just following your own inclinations, but you look at that banner and think of what it stands for and the honor of your nation, and you say, ‘I’ll do it’. That banner calls out a response that otherwise wouldn’t be there. Well, she says, his banner over me, his power to command me, his power to have headship over me, is love. And you find that right through the Bible. A man’s headship has got to be based on love. It’s what we call loving leadership. And if a man loves his wife, he can lead her. It doesn’t mean it will be easy, but it can be done. And if a man loves his wife, and she’s like this girl, she can submit to it, too, because the banner will be love. She might not always want to do what he says to do, but if she knows he really loves her—and there’s no question about that—she’ll say, ‘I don’t really feel like doing it, but I will. He loves me, and I’ll do it. His banner over me is love.’

And the third thing that’s very clear in this passage is that she does not want to anticipate the blessing of complete union with this man, her lover, prior to the time of God’s approval. She says, “Daughters of Jerusalem”—that is kind of a rhetorical address to all of the other women in Israel, “I charge you by the gazelles and the does of the field, don’t arouse or awaken love until it pleases.” That’s a way of saying, ‘Don’t try to stir up the fires of sexual passion until God himself gives his approval’. You see, right here is where our whole generation has gone completely wrong. The sexual side of the relationship between a man and a woman has been drawn out of the context that God put it in. There’s so much sexual stimulation today, and even evangelical Christians—and even whole denominations—are tending to yield ground in this area and say, ‘It’s all right. You don’t really have to wait till you get married’. But you do because that’s what the Bible says. You don’t have a right to another person’s total love until God says so, and God says so in the bonds of marriage. And she knew that, and she knew that the divine way is the right way, that God’s way is the blessed way, and so she said, ‘Daughters of Jerusalem, I charge you, don’t do anything to tempt me or to spoil the progress of God-ordained love. Wait until the right time ordained by him’.

Now as I say, there are other things in this passage perhaps I can’t explain, but those things, I believe, are perfectly certain. And I believe they teach us three very important principles that I would like to leave with you tonight. The first of which is that we always need to keep life in balance, and in this case that means we have to do justice to the physical side, but also the covenantal side of marriage. Sometimes in the Christian church in the past the physical side has been almost denied. I can’t remember as a young person, growing up in the church, that I ever heard anything from the pulpit about sex and marriage. And that’s one of the reasons we are in the mess we are today. The previous generation was squeamish about sex in the ministry of the Word of God. That’s a fact, and it can’t be denied, and so there’s been a reaction against it—quite understandably. God made women beautiful, and that’s not an accident. God made sex, and that’s not an accident. And God gave this mighty power that draws people together in sexual attraction, and that’s not wrong. But it becomes wrong when, as in our culture today, it becomes all important and is separated from the context in which God has put it, the context we’ve seen unfolding here in this beautiful account of the love of Solomon and this young woman.

And this means we must always do justice also to the aspect of character. Anyone who separates sex from character is asking for an awful lot of trouble. Physical attraction was there, she doesn’t deny it. She desires—let’s be honest—to be in bed with this man. That’s a fact. But not without the other things, not without being sure he’s the kind of man she can also live, for a lifetime, under the shade of; whose headship and leadership she can always respect and abide by. She looked, in other words, also at the character, at the name, and God wants us to instruct our covenant young people that this is absolutely vital. That’s why so many marriages are going down the drain today—people only look at sex, and then after their marriage they start to look at character. And just look at the results. You can’t do it. You’ve got to look at both. Don’t marry somebody who isn’t sexually attracted to you and attractive to you—of course not; but don’t marry somebody until you’re absolutely sure he has the character that you really want to be subject to—or if you’re a male, the character of a woman who really is willing to be subject to you in the Lord as she ought to be. Now that’s the first principle.

The second principle is what I would call the danger of things artificial, and what a danger this is today in our culture. The model that many young people have today is the movie star and the pop idol, an absolutely devastating and destructive model. There’s no character there; none of the foundational building blocks for a happy marriage. You can have sharp-looking clothes and a very dashing appearance and that can lead you into one disaster after another. Don’t make as a model for anything in your life a person whose own life demonstrates disaster in the area of marriage. You remember this young woman, and you remember the wise Solomon who out of all the women in the kingdom picked that girl who had character, for that’s exactly what he did. He wasn’t impressed by the latest style and hairdo; he was impressed by inner beauty of a tranquil and godly heart. I remember in one congregation of mine there were two young people who fell in love and wanted to get married. And their parents were absolutely against it! ‘These kids are too young to get married,’ they insisted. That was the end of the discussion for the parents. Well, they were young, maybe a little too young to get married, but they were like these too young people here in the Song of Solomon. She was a very simple, unadorned, naturally beautiful person, and he was a really godly young man. They were both real Christians. They met at one of the youth camps, and they wanted to get married. And the thing that really impressed me was that they were godly in it. And I began to say, ‘No sir, this is not right.’

The Larger Catechism says one of the sins against the Seventh Commandment is undue delay of marriage. Did you know that? Making young people wait too long is not right, provided the character is there. Well, they had these essentials, so I went to their parents and began to oppose them. I said, ‘You’d better wake up or you’re going to be the cause of disaster with your own children. Now they’re both committed Christians, they’re both godly—you don’t have a Biblical right to oppose their marriage because there isn’t any arbitrary age in the Bible. The Bible doesn’t say you have to have eight years of higher education before you get married.’ Well, they finally saw the light, and went along with it, and I heard later that this young couple are still doing wonderfully today. They were married quite young, but they had what it takes. We’ve got to be on our guard against going along with what everybody else does. We’ve got to get back to Biblical principles. There’s no reason in the world why they shouldn’t have the right to marry just because they didn't match somebody’s arbitrary idea of how old you have to be, not when they have the character. Now I don’t mean you young people should rush out and get married right away just to prove that you can do it young. That’s not my point. My point is we must avoid the artificial, and going along with everything that everybody else does.

And finally, the third and last principle is to remember that we always see in these things the image of something higher and we need to remember that the great model that we must always build our marriages on, and our love affairs too, is the model of Christ and the church. And there are two things I want to say about that. First of all, can you imagine Christ being attracted by anything artificial in the church? There he is in glory with all the angels—why in the world would he set his heart upon us down here in this world of sin? It’s not because of anything artificial, I can tell you that for sure. That’s why the Reformed church was right when it set aside all of that artificial rubbish—the candles and the crosses and the robes and the man-made ceremonies—and went back to plain, simple worship. They wanted to be the kind of wife that the Lord takes delight in—his beautiful Bride. Anything artificial should always be banished from the church of Jesus Christ because the beauty of the church of Christ is in her humility and simplicity, and as soon as she starts putting on paint and all kind of artificial beauty aids, she becomes very displeasing to the Lord. Right there you see the difference between Rome and the Reformation. And we ought to remember that.

The second thing under this point is that the church sometimes becomes impatient and tries to take the initiative away from her Lord, and that is always wrong. We must be patient. We must wait for the Lord to take initiative. We desire the day of the consummation, the great wedding feast of the Lamb, but that will only come when he is ready. We must respect his headship and patiently wait as we pray, “Come, Lord Jesus, come quickly”, without trying to anticipate the glorious day of his coming. The model for us is the way in which Christ deals with the church, and the way in which the church acknowledges his headship.

And now may God apply these lessons to our hearts.


* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. G. I. Williamson, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright, Rev. G. I. Williamson

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