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Author:Rev. G. I. Williamson
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 Orthodox Presbyterian Church - OPC
Title:The Test of True Love - #1
Text:Song of Songs 5:2-6:9 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

The Shulamite

5:2 - I sleep, but my heart is awake; it is the voice of my beloved! he knocks, saying, “Open for me, my sister, my love, my dove, my perfect one; for my head is covered with dew, my locks with the drops of the night.”

5:3 - I have taken off my robe; how can I put it on again? I have washed my feet; how can I defile them?
5:4 - my beloved put his hand by the latch of the door, and my heart yearned for him.
5:5 - I arose to open for my beloved, and my hands dripped with myrrh, My fingers with liquid myrrh, on the handles of the lock.
5:6 - I opened for my beloved, but my beloved had turned away and was gone. My heart went out to him when he spoke. I sought him, but I could not find him; I called him, but he gave me no answer.
5:7 - The watchmen who went about the city found me. They struck me, they wounded me; the keepers of the walls took my veil away from me.

5:8 - I charge you, O daughters of Jerusalem, if you find my beloved, that you tell him I am lovesick!

The Daughters of Jerusalem

5:9 - What is your beloved more than another beloved, O fairest among women? What is your beloved more than another beloved, that you so charge us?

The Shulamite

5:10 - My beloved is white and ruddy, chief among ten thousand.
5:11 - his head is like the finest gold; his locks are wavy, and black as a raven.
5:12 - his eyes are like doves by the rivers of waters, washed with milk, and fitly set.
5:13 - his cheeks are like a bed of spices, like banks of scented herbs. His lips are lilies, dripping liquid myrrh.
5:14 - his hands are rods of gold set with beryl. His body is carved ivory inlaid with sapphires.
5:15 - his legs are pillars of marble set on bases of fine gold. His countenance is like Lebanon, excellent as the cedars.
5:16 - his mouth is most sweet, yes, he is altogether lovely. This is my beloved, and this is my friend, O daughters of Jerusalem!

The Daughters of Jerusalem

6:1 - Where has your beloved gone, O fairest among women? Where has your beloved turned aside, that we may seek him with you?

The Shulamite

6:2 - My lover has gone to his garden, to the beds of spices, to feed his flock in the gardens, and to gather lilies.
6:3 - I am my lover's, and my lover is mine. He feeds his flock among the lilies.

The Beloved

6:4 - O my love, you are as beautiful as Tirzah, lovely as Jerusalem, awesome as an army with banners!
6:5 - Turn your eyes away from me, for they have overcome me. Your hair is like a flock of goats going down from Gilead.
6:6 - Your teeth are like a flock of sheep which have come up from the washing; every one bears twins, and none is barren among them.
6:7 - Like a piece of pomegranate are your temples behind your veil.
6:8 - There are sixty queens and eighty concubines, and virgins without number.
6:9 - My dove, my perfect one, is the only one, the only one of her mother, the favorite of the one who bore her. The daughters saw her and called her blessed, the queens and the concubines, and they praised her.
* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. G. I. Williamson, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Over these past few weeks, congregation, we have been thinking of this great and ideal marriage, and the things that led up to it—how they met, the progress of their courtship, and, at last, the actual wedding ceremony itself and the consummation of their love. And I’ve pointed out to you several times that there is a very good reason why God chose this form of revelation. I suppose it would have been unthinkable for a poem to have been written at that time that was critical of the king, and so all the problems in this song are in the wife and not the husband. That’s not the way it is, for us, in everyday life as you all know—especially you who are women. You have problems with the men just as much as we have problems with the women (and, again, we remember that in this world there is no such a thing as a perfect marriage). I used to imagine that there could be, when I was real young, but when I grew up and had one of my own—and then ministered to other people—I soon learned that it is impossible. You can’t take a daughter of Eve and marry her to a son of Adam and have a perfect marriage—it’s not possible. Yet in this particular marriage what you have is Solomon set forth as the ideal husband, and the problems are found in his wife, the Shulamite. And this, I think, is for a very good reason in God’s providential purpose. It's because standing behind this marriage of Solomon and the Shulamite is the greater model of the love of Christ for the church. And I'm sure you’ll agree that in the love between Christ and the church all of the problems are on the wife’s side. There is no fault in Jesus. He is absolutely perfect—one-hundred percent sinless. But the church is far from perfect. She’s not yet sanctified completely. Again and again she has been unfaithful to her husband, Christ Jesus. And so in the very way in which this song was written we are constantly reminded of that higher and ultimate model of the one perfect marriage—the marriage between Christ and his church.

We begin, then, by taking note of the fact that in this marriage of Solomon and the Shulamite there arose something of a crisis. You can see that when she says, “I slept but my heart was awake.” She had a dream but she was also keenly aware in her dream, and she was thinking about things in their relationship, the one with the other. Now the Bible says that dreams arise out of the multitudes of life's vexations (Eccl. 5:3). If you have dreams very often, and analyze them, they will often tell you something about yourself. When I was a young minister I used to dream again and again about being late for the worship service. I would rush around looking for my shoes, and couldn’t find them. I would hear the congregation starting to sing, and frantically rush to get there. Next week I would dream the same dream again, only this time I couldn’t find my sermon notes, and was absolutely frantic. Then just at the last moment as the hymn was about to end I would find them and then run for the church. And then the dream ended, and I never found out what happened. The dream happened over and over again, and it wouldn’t take somebody like Sigmund Freud to tell you my problem was anxiety; I didn’t feel confident enough, I didn’t feel well prepared enough. You see, dreams arise out of the vexations of life.

Well, this woman also had a dream, and in it there was a kind of replay of one of the problems that was vexing their marriage. So what was the problem? The problem was this. She heard her lover knocking at the door, and he said, ‘Open to me, my sister, my darling, my dove’. My goodness, he uses plenty of loving terms, doesn’t he? But what does she say in reply? She says, ‘I’ve taken off my robe. Do I have to put it on again? I washed my feet. Do I have to get them dirty again?’ In other words, ‘Really, do you have to put me to all of this trouble’. That’s what she really was saying. And that is a common thing in marriage—a growing reluctance to put yourself out for the other person. I've noticed that when two young people come to arrange to get married, they usually ‘knock themselves out' to please each other. ‘What do you want, honey?’ ‘Oh, I don’t know, what do you want?’ ‘Whatever you say.’ ‘No, whatever you say.’ And so it goes back and forth between them. They bend over backwards to accomodate each other. But here, a few months, maybe a few years later, she says, ‘Do I have to get up and get my feet soiled for you, honey?’

A modern poet put it like this:

Oh, my petite, clearest of all God’s creatures,
Still all air and nerve.
You were in your twenties, and I once,
Hand on glass and heart on mouth,
Outdrank the Rahva in the heat of Greenwich Village
Fainting at your feet.
Now, twelve years later, you turn your back.

This is true to human nature and human experience.

Now, the problem isn’t that she doesn’t love him any more; that’s quite clear. If she didn’t love him any more, she wouldn’t have such a dream. She wouldn’t be anxious about it. She wouldn’t get up with her heart pounding and go looking for him through the town—almost a replay of that dream she had before they were married, only this time things are a lot worse than they were then. This time they start to beat her. Yes, that’s what it says. The watchmen found me, and what did they do? They beat me, they bruised me, they took away my cloak, those watchmen of the walls. Now they didn’t do that earlier when she was anxious about whether she would get this guy tied down in the first place, but now, you see, she is really anxious about their relationship, and that proves to you that she really loves him. And the way she speaks about him shows that, and the way she goes out looking desperately for him, and says, ‘O daughters of Jerusalem, if you find him, tell him I’m faint with love’.

Our text doesn’t tell us exactly what had caused the problem. She’s having a dream, and she’s revealing this problem that has probably had a lot of different types of manifestation in their lives. And again I think we’ll have to compare this to the little foxes that we met when they were in courtship. You remember how the little foxes were there. And Solomon in his wisdom said, ‘You’ve got to get the little foxes out of the vineyard’. And we interpreted and explained that to mean that you’ve got to learn to handle the little problems before they get too big. That’s one of the purposes of courtship, and if you can’t handle it in courtship, look out because marriage is going to be even harder. Well, this problem here is not a big elephant—not yet. It’s still like one of these little foxes. And I would say it probably came out of a scenario like this. You get married, and you get into the humdrum existence of life—you have a few children, you have a house to look after—and you begin to become vexed by the burden of daily cares and concerns. Now that’s natural. We all have an experience like that. One of my friends who was a professor at Westminster was having breakfast one day when he let his daughter run around under his feet, and accidentally she pulled on the electric cord and down came the hot coffee pot and spilled boiling coffee on her. And they had to drop everything and rush to the hospital, and for two or three days they were there at her side, not another thought in their mind but the way it would turn out for that little girl. Now that’s natural, that’s right, that’s good, but there is such a thing as to let the routine duties of life crowd out what should always be number one in any marriage and that is the concern that the husband has for his wife and the wife has for her husband.

And here again the analogy is very clear because you know what happens when the church lets something else crowd out the one thing that ought to always be central. And that is the fervency of its devotion to the Lord Jesus. One of the things that has been happening in some Reformed churches across the world in our generation is something we call a move from the vertical to the horizontal—less concern about God Almighty and his worship and faithfulness to him, and more concern about the social and political problems. Now, of course, we should be concerned about social and political problems. We all ought to have some concern about such things as AIDS and abortion. But when the church becomes preoccupied with anything horizontal, and it loses the fervency of its devotion and love for Christ (the vertical) as number one, then you’re going to have all kinds of problems. Do you remember the woman who came and anointed Jesus’s feet and wept and wiped them with her hair? The disciples were horizontalists in their thinking. They said, ‘What a stupid, ridiculous thing. That could have been sold for a lot of money. And we could have taken that money, and we could have helped a lot of poor people’. But Jesus said, ‘Let her alone. She has done the right thing. She has things in the right order. She has anointed me for my burial, and I’m more important than those people who are starving’. And that’s a fact, and if we ever forget that in the church, look out, because the same thing happens in our relationship with Christ that happened here between this woman and her husband. She let something else become more important—for the time being—than her husband, and that is not right. And when you do that, like it or not, other things tend to go wrong also.

I think that’s the significance in the dream of the watchmen beating her. If you’re married and things aren’t right between you and your wife—or you and your husband—isn’t it true that everything else seems lousy also? You get mad at the world. You feel like kicking the toaster across the kitchen. Everything else is out of order in the home when things are not right between a wife and her husband. That is the significance of her dream. She let other things come first. She couldn’t be bothered. And now she realizes that life itself has become miserable, and everything else is lousy, too. Well, that’s psychologically true.

Now the second thing we deal with, then, is Solomon’s answer to this problem. For what does he do? Well, what do you do? Do you retaliate? I think that’s what we all tend to do, because of our sinful nature. ‘If she’s not going to do that for me; I’m not going to do it for her either. Just wait till the next time that she asks me for something—because I'm not going to forget this’. Sometimes husbands respond that way, giving her a little of her own medicine (to put it bluntly). And Solomon could have said to her, ‘Listen, I’m the head of the house, and you'd better acknowledge it’. He can come down with a heavy foot, in other words—that’s another way that you can handle the situation, and I’ve known husbands to do it. I’ve even seen a third reaction. He can give her the silent treatment. He can simply pout and say nothing. But Solomon didn’t do any of these. When she couldn’t be bothered to get up and soil her feet, do you know what he did? He went off and got busy with other tasks that he had to do. That’s why she couldn’t find him.

Now of course this is in her dream, but this was also characteristic of him—instead of retaliating, he got busy and involved in some other job and got it done. I think that has to be true, because otherwise in her dream there would have been some reflection of retaliation and there isn’t the slightest bit of this. It’s not for nothing that Solomon is called the wisest man in the Bible prior to our Lord Jesus. So he knew what a lot of husbands aren’t wise enough to know—he knew that retaliation only aggravates the problem. I found that out the hard way a few times, and I suppose that many of you have. It only makes matters worse. So he simply went out and got busy with other things. One commentator even suggests that he left a little perfume on the handle of the door. I don’t know if that’s a little fanciful. When she went to the door it says her hands dripped with myrrh and her fingers with flowing myrrh, so maybe that’s true, but anyway it is perfectly evident that he did not respond in kind but acted in love. And one act of love will do more good than a hundred acts of retaliation. If you really want to get to that wife of yours, or that husband of yours, when he (or she) has been lousy, do something nice. That is the ‘coup de grace’, as they say, because that is the power of love, and doesn’t that bring us right back to the way it was in the beginning?

What was it that won her heart to this man in the first place? Do you remember when she said, ‘his banner over me is love’? Do you remember how we traced that out in the Bible? When you go into battle, you have a banner. You don’t want to go into battle and meet the enemy and risk death, but because of that banner you’ll go. Because of your patriotic feeling, you’ll go. Well, she says, his banner over me is love. Not force, not unkindness, not being tough—but love. That’s what made me willing to submit and sit under his shadow. And now here it is all over again, and she says, ‘What a wonderful man he is’. And she saw that everything else in their marriage really rested upon the nobility of his love. I think that’s why there is a parallel between this dream and the earlier one. Do you remember how she went out to look for her husband-to-be? Do you remember how she couldn’t find him? They tried to help her, but now they don’t help her, and she realizes in that very thing that all is lost if she doesn’t have his love.

And right here is the parallel between Christ and the church. When anything goes wrong with our devotion to Jesus, everything else goes wrong, too. Do you know that when liberal churches deny the doctrines of grace and no longer preach faithfully the whole counsel of God found in the Bible, mission work also begins to wither and die, the sense of the church’s mission in the world begins to fade out. Some people in the history of the church woke up to that fact, and thought, ‘Where is God? Where is our relationship to Christ?’ And then you have a reformation, and the church goes back to fervent devotion to the Lord. That’s what happened in the Reformation. The people again filled the churches, and poured out their hearts to the living God in fervent worship, and then God poured out his blessing and everything began to go right again.

That’s exactly what you have here in this chapter. For the first time, in this context, she describes his beauty. Twice already he has described her beauty, but now for the first time she describes his beauty. I reckon that’s about par for the course. Women are far more beautiful than we men are—everybody knows that. It’s only natural that she should be described several times before he is, but now he is described. You see it there in chapter five beginning at verse ten. She talks about how radiant he is. His head is purest gold, his eyes are like doves, his cheeks are like beds of fragrance, and so on. She really does think he’s attractive, and it’s really because he’s so wonderful in his love. I don’t think he’s gotten any more handsome. I think it’s just that his love has really got to her far more than ever before in their relationship. And that is the beauty of the way that it also is in our relationship with Christ. The Bible says we love him because he first loved us, and the deeper your awareness of the love of Christ—what he did for you—the more out of your heart will flow praise and adoration. And you also will say, he is the fairest among ten thousand, the one who is altogether lovely. It is his love that brings that response from the church.

We come, then, in the third place to a beautiful reconciliation, and here I would like to stress once again the covenant aspect of marriage. In verse one of chapter six we again have one of these rhetorical questions, and to my mind it doesn’t really matter who asks it—the daughters of Jerusalem? Solomon himself in a kind of rhetorical aside? Because it ultimately is Almighty God himself who asks this question.

Where has your lover gone,
most beautiful of women?
Which way did your lover turn,
that we may look for him with you?

And she says, “My lover has gone down to his garden.”

If you were to put that question to many of the young people in our land today (both in and not in marriage under vows) they would have no answer. ‘Where is he?’ they would say, ‘I don’t know; I wish I did know’—that’s what many of them would have to say. ‘I don’t have any strings on that guy.’ And a lot of guys would say, ‘I don’t know where she is. I don’t have any strings on her.’ There are many so-called open marriages today. And a lot of churches have watered down the vows of marriage until they really don’t mean much. The result is that you’re not bound to anything.If you want to walk in, you can walk in. And if you want to walk out, you can walk out. But covenantal marriage, as God ordained it, is entirely different. You can’t walk out. No, you promised ‘for better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sorrow as well as in happiness, that you will not forsake her or him as long as you both will live.’ And where you have covenantal marriage, there is security, and you know where that other person is. They might be upset, they might be a little bit angry, but you know where they are. And you know where you can find them, because you know you can depend on them. So she says, ‘I know where he is’. And in verse three she tells us why she knows, for she says, ‘I am my lover’s, and my lover is mine.’ And you can only say that in the context of covenantal, Christian marriage—‘she is mine, and I am hers.’ And there are no ifs, and no ands, and no buts. That’s the way it really is, and that’s the way God intended it to be—in spite of the trials and problems.

And here again the great model is Christ and the church. For one of the things we know as God’s covenantal people (and how wonderful it is to know it) is that in spite of all of our failures and imperfections he has promised, ‘I will never leave you, I will never forsake you’. Christ Jesus came down here to this world to save his church. On the night on which he was betrayed he gathered with them for the last supper. They were arguing about who would be top man under him in the Kingdom; they were bickering and fighting. And the Bible says, ‘having loved his own that were in the world, he loved them to the end’. That’s why he took the towel and began to wash their feet. But the point I make is that his love never wavered.

So she comes down there looking for him, and what does he say to her? ‘Well, it’s about time you got here?’ No, he doesn’t. He's too smart, too wise for that. Some of us probably would say that, but not Solomon, a type of the Lord Jesus. What does he say? He says right away, with the first words out of his mouth, ‘You really are beautiful, my darling. Turn your eyes away from me, they overwhelm me.’ And then he begins, again, to praise the beauty of this woman. Now I think you would agree as you read that passage that it is far less sensual, far less sexual in its overtone than was the earlier description. And there is a very good reason. Right now is psychologically the perfect time to tell her that he values her for what she is, not just what he can get out of her. You know, the Greeks had different words for love. They had the word “eros,” from which we get our word ‘erotic’. They had “phileo” for friendship love, the kind of love that binds two people together who really like one another. But they also had another word that they didn’t use very much—and that’s exactly why the New Testament chose that word and filled it full of a great content. It is the great word “agape”, the kind of love that is steadfast and immoveable, the kind of love that doesn’t depend on some loveliness in the object loved, but on the steadfast character of the one who does the loving. And it was the agape love, the faithful love of Christ for his church, that again and again has won the church’s heart to him. And it was the love of this wise Solomon that kindled in the Shulamite—more than ever—her love in response to her husband.

So here again you see the ultimate model—the absolutely faithful covenant love that conquers our hearts completely. For what is it that conquers our hearts to Christ in real commitment? Is it is his awesome authority—the fact that he has all authority in heaven and earth—is that why you’re committed to Jesus? Is it because of your fear of his terrible wrath? Is it because you respect his almighty power that you are committed to Jesus? No, of course not—it’s because of his love, the fact that he loved us and gave himself for us that he might cleanse us and that we might stand before him holy and without blame; and because he never gives up on us, even though we are so unworthy. You know, when we realize this, this love of Christ for the church, beautifully set forth as in a model in Solomon and his bride, and by the grace of God begin to enter into it, we begin to have the key to a beautiful marriage.

I began by saying there is no such thing as a perfect marriage, and that’s true. But it’s also true that in the church of Christ there are such things as beautiful marriages. God’s people do grow up in all things into Jesus. And it is possible for people today—the more they understand what Christ is to the church and what the church is to Christ—to begin to manifest that same love in a beautiful way in marriage, home, and family. One of the greatest needs in the church today is to see that in Christian marriages and families. What a wonderful witness whenever the world sees an image of Christ’s love for his church, and the church’s love for Christ in the lives of his people. And the wonderful thing is that you, by the grace of God, can have a part in that witness.

May God grant it, for Christ’s sake.


* 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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