Expositor's Dictionary of Texts
The song of songs, which is Solomon's.Song of Solomon the Unutterable
Song of Solomon 1:1
'The Song of songs'—the Song that holds all other songs and makes them poor; the Song that has in it all the notes and all the gamut and all the instruments and all the vocal miracles, with something added. It is that plus quantity that puzzles the algebra of the Church.
I. Take an instance which goes well with 'Song of songs,' 'Holy of holies,' of which we read in Exodus 26:33, In the Authorized Version it is 'the most holy,' in other places it is 'the Holy of holies' as 'the Song of songs,' the upper holiness, the holiest holiness, the holiness that has got rid of the flesh, dropped the accursed body into its proper place, the grave, and got away where every shining star is a chorister, and all the silent heavens are only silent because they have no medium worthy of the purpose of their music. Who can adequately express the holiness of holiness? Who can say beyond what is already known—a still whiter whiteness? There language dies, there the instrument is broken, for it cannot tell the music.
In the Bible language is often sorely put to it There are many unfinished sentences as well as unfinished thoughts in the Bible. I have never known language, so as to say, so cruelly put to it as in the Bible. All the most musical language is in the Scriptures, yet here and there and again, yea, and oftentimes, language seems to beg the speaker not to drive at such a pace.
II. There are other cases which match 'the Song of songs' and 'the Holy of holies'; notably one in 1 Kings 8:27—a word that has often lifted me up out of the dust—' The heaven and heaven of heavens'. They are not mere Hebraisms. When a man built his little pillar, we think he only put a number of stones together, but the Hebrew says he 'pillared a pillar'. It was a pillar before he began; there was a pillar in the soul before there was a pillar on the ground. And 'heaven and heaven of heavens' simply represents language at its weakest.
III. Then all is gathered up in the Christ—always. Did Solomon say 'The Song of songs'? I hear another voice greater than Solomon, saying, 'King of kings, Lord of lords'. And they mingle well, these great surges of song—Song of songs, Holy of holies, Heaven of heavens, King of kings, Lord of lords. And what voice was that I heard between? It was a voice that spake of 'joy unspeakable'.
—Joseph Parker, City Temple Pulpit, vol. Iv. p. 165.
References.—I.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xlii. No. 2469; see also vol. xliii. No. 2516. B. J. Snell, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xliii. p. 218.
The Kiss of the Prince of Peace
Song of Solomon 1:2
So it is that the Bride begins her conversation with that dear Lord: so it is that she utters the first words of that book, in which so many holy souls, now in the joy of their King, have found such singular sweetness and blessing.
And the Song of the Prince of Peace begins fitly: for it commences with the perfect sign of peace and love—namely, a kiss.
I. Notice that word 'Him'. How should we understand it? To whom should we apply it? There is nothing that goes before—nothing that can explain it—nothing, that is, save love. That has a knowledge of its own. That very word 'Him' implies a whole life of affection. It tells where all her thoughts were—it tells to whom it was natural that she should turn. There may come times when outward acts, when especial hours of prayer, are almost impossible. Then, as He would say Himself, 'Let not your heart be troubled; neither let it be afraid'. Only strive so to be His that, almost unconsciously, you are thinking of Him—that every act, whether formally or not, is dedicated to Him—and what matters all the rest? The Bride here makes no long opening—uses no formal words—encumbers herself with no laboured commencement. She is in the heart of her desires at once. 'Let Him kiss me with the kisses of His mouth.'
II. And how boldly she asks for the greatest of all blessings!
As holy men have delighted to remind us, the very mention of a kiss teaches us a great mystery. It implies, not "one single motion, but the movement of both lips. And so here. It is because, having one Nature—that of the Godhead—from all eternity, He assumed the other in the womb of the Virgin, that He is able to raise us to the perfection of all blessedness. Able, both in what He did while He walked upon earth, and able in what He does now that He has sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on High. He took our nature, first of all, that He might be able to suffer. He weal's it still, that He may be able to sympathize. He assumed it, first of all, because Divinity could not have been nailed to the Cross. He retains it still, that humanity may see itself exalted to the Throne.
III. It is because the Bride knows His love, that she comes before Him with such a petition as this. What is that kiss for which she thus asks? If we take it as applying to this militant state, to what does it refer so well as to the Sacrament in which He gives you Himself?
But what, when He shall talk with us face to face, as a man talketh to his friend? What, when that Beatific Vision shall be accomplished, of which Satan once told a saint that, only to retain it for as long a time as a hand might open and shut in, he would willingly endure, to all eternity, the pains of all lost souls as well as his own?
—J. M. Neale, Sermons on the Song of Songs, p. 5.
Reference.—I. 2.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xlii. No. 2459.
Draw Me (rogation Sunday)
Song of Solomon 1:4
Here is a Rogation text for Rogation Sunday. For now we are about to lose Him Whose presence with us after His Resurrection has been the cause of our Paschal joy. The Forty Days of His triumphal life on earth—of the Lent, if I may so speak, of our gladness—are drawing to an end; and the Church, for the first time, breaks in upon our Easter happiness by those three solemn days in which she listens to His voice—'Ask what I shall do for thee before I be taken away from thee'.
And the bride answers at once: 'Draw me, we will run after Thee'.
I. Notice that she makes no reservation of the manner in which she is to be drawn. 'Lord, if it be Thou, bid me come to Thee upon the water.' When your Lord seems to call you nearer to Himself by a way that is difficult and painful to flesh and blood, ought you not to rejoice in that very difficulty—to be glad of that very pain—because it gives you the opportunity of proving to yourselves and manifesting to Him that whatever it may cost, follow Him you will: that you care not how loud the storm is if He be but walking upon the water; you care not how hard the race is if He be but beckoning to you from the goal?
'Draw me, we will run after Thee.' And there see how beautiful is her humility. As though she were the most wavering of all His followers—the feeblest of all His lambs; as if about her only there was doubt; as if her greater infirmity needed a double portion of help.
II. And why does it continue, 'The King has brought me into His chambers?' Surely for this reason. It is as though she world say that, knowing in some faint degree the happiness of His presence, she longs for its perfection; and, remembering that He has already vouchsafed her an earnest of it, she trusts that He will one day give her its fullness.
III. And then notice that expression 'His chambers': as if here His graces were divided into different kinds, and bestowed in different ways: as if here there were the chamber of audience, when you kneel before Him in your own prayers; the chamber of pardon, when you draw near to Him in Confession; the chamber of His own more immediate Presence, when He gives Himself to you under the form of Bread and Wine. But there are no such divisions there, where He is All in All; where He, at one and the same time, gives Himself wholly; where He no longer in types and figures, under shadows and veils, bestows Himself fully. The chambers built round about the earthly temple were many and various: the temple itself, thus girt in with them, was one.
—J. M. Neale, Sermons on the Song of Songs, p. 19.
References.—I. 4.—H. E. Manning, Sermons, p. 388. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxxix. No. 2294; vol. xlii. 2461; vol. xlviii. No. 2794. Thomas Spurgeon, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlii. 1892, p. 193. Sir G. R. Fetherston, A Garden Eastward, p. 42. I. 5.—J. M. Neale, Sermons on the Song of Songs, p. 30. I. 6.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xvii. No. 990; vol. xxxii. No. 1936. S. Martin, Westminster Chapel Sermons, p. 121.
Tell Me Where Thou Feedest
Song of Solomon 1:7
I. The title in the prayer shows us how we ought to pray. 'Tell me, O Thou Whom my soul loveth.' If we cannot call the Lord by that name, we cannot go on with the request.
II. What is the request? It is twofold. In the first place, Tell me where Thou feedest: in the second, Where Thou causest Thy flock to rest at noon?
1. Where Thou feedest.—That is, where, in the evening—that glorious evening, when, as the Prophet speaks, there shall be light—Thou feedest Thy sheep by the river of the water of life; where Thou foldest them in Thine eternal fold, the fold in which there can be no more danger and no more suffering. That is a request which will not be granted in this world. Therefore the Bride goes on to ask another question:—
2. Where Thou causest Thy flock to rest at noon?—This world—it is a hot, burning noon indeed; and we have to bear the burden and heat of the day in it. But yet here we learn that there is rest in it, if we only knew where to go for it Rest only for one class—'Thy flock'; rest only in one way—'Thou causest'. For rest is one of those contraries which make up a Christian's life. Join these two texts, 'Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to resist the wiles of the devil. For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers:' and 'Peace I leave you, My peace I give unto you'. 'Tell me, O Thou Whom my soul loveth, where Thou feedest, where Thou causest Thy flock to rest at noon?' Thy flock—the flock that rests beneath the shadow of that great rock in a weary land. Call to mind how we, wearied, languid, discouraged with ourselves and this world, have such a shelter from the heat in Him Who, as at noonday, hung on the Cross for us. The shadow of that Cross is the place where His flock now rests—where you must rest, too, in the day of this world, if you would have your eternal rest in the glorious evening that remains.
III. It follows—'Why should I be as one that turneth aside by the flocks of Thy companions?' We must not misunderstand the question. It is not, Why should I turn to the flocks of Thy companions, and leave Thine? No: wherever His companions are, there is He in the midst of them. If we join ourselves to them, we join ourselves to Him. But the question is, Why should I be the only one that turns aside, when such innumerable multitudes are following Thee?
'Tell me, O Thou Whom my soul loveth, where Thou feedest.' We shall not always have to ask that question. If we have asked it in real earnest here, the time will come when we shall see that more beautiful flock which now lies down in quiet valleys, which now is in the immediate presence of its Shepherd.
—J. M. Neale, Sermons on the Song of Songs, p. 40.
References.—I. 7.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. vi. No. 338; vol. xi. No. 636. I. 7, 8.—Ibid. vol. xix. No. 1115. I. 8.—R. E. Hutton, The Crown of Christ, vol. ii. p. 565.
The Spikenard of the Bride
Song of Solomon 1:12
I. First we think of that happy penitent who literally was thus privileged to honour the great King—who received Him into her house—who found her blessed station at His feet—who afterwards anointed those feet with the alabaster box of very precious ointment.
But the King still sitteth at His table, and that in more senses than one. That Eternal Marriage Feast has already, in its measure, begun: many happy guests have already entered in thereto, secure now of their own felicity, doubtful only and anxious about ours.
And what in the meanwhile for you? The Bride answers, 'My spikenard sendeth forth the smell thereof'. She was not with Him in His immediate presence then; but she could do thus much for Him—thus much she could honour Him: the sweet perfume of her spikenard could rise where she herself could not enter.
II. And what is that spikenard but prayer? But prayer, and of what kind? The coal must be alive and glowing if the fragrance of the incense is to arise: love must be glowing and fervent also if the sacrifice of prayer is to come up before the Heavenly Altar with acceptance. The King was not always at His table. He did not sit down, any more than you can, till He had overcome; and, while He was still carrying on His labour, He left us an example how our spikenard should send forth its sweet savour. He Who, towards the beginning of His ministry, taught us how to pray as to words, and at the end of it taught us how to pray as to manner and thoughts—He Who was then so soon about to be pierced with Five Wounds for us men and for our salvation, in the same night in which He was betrayed, inflicted a fivefold wound on the great enemy by the fivefold virtue of His prayer in the garden.
1. That He was alone. That He shut out even those who were most dear to Him, when He was about thus to send up His prayers to the Father. 'Tarry ye here while I go and pray yonder.'
2. His humility—He fell on His face.
3. His perseverance. He went away again the second and the third time.
4. His earnestness. 'Being in an agony, He prayed more earnestly; and His sweat was as it were great drops of blood, falling down to the ground.'
5. His resignation.
And thus it was in the coldness and stillness of that night, amidst those olive trees in Gethsemane, while even then Judas and his band were issuing from the eastern gate of the city, and crossing the valley of Jehoshaphat, that the King, then about to enter into His last and greatest struggle, prayed for us. That same King, now seated in His glory at the Heavenly Table, would thus have you pray to Him. J. M. Neale, Sermons on the Song of Songs, p. 49.
References.—I. 13.—J. M. Neale, Sermons on the Song of Songs, p. 58; see also Sermons Preached in Sackville College Chapel, vol. iv. p. 130. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. x. No. 558.
Song of Solomon 1:17
'The beams of our house are cedar' means that their house is solid and permanent, for, of all woods, cedar was esteemed most solid and durable. Christ says to the Church, 'The beams of our house are cedar'. This is the Church's ideal. Solidity is the great desideratum of life. Solidity is the necessity of religion.
I. Religious Solidity must be the Ideal of the Church.—The Church should be a noble illustration of solidity. We want a cedar-beamed house for our souls. This is now and always the problem of the Church. A house we need, and beams we must have; but they must be solid, for only the solid endures. Quality is the question. Sin, Atonement, Holiness, Eternity: are these the staple teaching of many Church teachers? If they are not, then 'The beams of our house are not cedar'.
II. Religious Solidity must be the Ideal of the Individual.—There is no true solidity in life if it be not religious, and there is no permanent security save in religious solidity.
1. Many life-houses are devoid of cedar beams. Can the atheist say exultantly in all weathers, 'The beams of our house are cedar'? Atheism is negation. You cannot uphold life upon negations. We need positive props for our house. There is no intellectual solidity about atheism. The moral solidity of atheism is equally dubious. Its whole character is un-solid.
2. Can the drunkard congratulate himself and his associates that the beams of their house are cedar? Everything gives way under the drunkard. Has the voluptuary cedar-beams to his house? Pleasures give no solidity to life. Has the mere moralist a right to say, 'The beams of our house are cedar'? Morality without God is a horticulture of fruits without roots. Only as we trust in the living God revealed in Christ have we moral solidity and permanence.
3. It is cedar-beams which give solidity to the life-house. It is the supports on which life depends which make it solid or otherwise. Money is the only 'beams 'of some houses. Money is not a cedar-beam for our life-house. Business similarly is insufficient.
What, then, are the great upholdings of a life? They are spiritual. Faith—which is not simply perception of God, but reliance upon God. Prayer, Bible study, reflection; these, and such as these, are life's abiding supports.
4. Life's experiences test the beams of our house. Let that consideration stir you to make religious solidity your ideal.
5. Religious solidity gives truest joy. The lover of my text rejoices with singing because the beams of his house are cedar. And it is a parable. Earthly qualifications do not give the clue to enduring joy. They joy greatly who can say, 'The beams of our house are cedar'.
6. As a final encouragement to making religious solidity our ideal, let me say that there is abundance of the best material to be had for the beams of our life-house. There is 'cedar' in plenty if we be willing to seek it.
—Dinsdale T. Young, Unfamiliar Texts, p. 117.
References.—II.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xlii. No. 2485. II. 1.—Ibid. vol. xiii. No. 784; vol. xlii. No. 2472. II. 2.—Ibid. vol. xxvi. No. 1525. R. E. Hutton, The Crown of Christ, vol. ii. p. 585. II. 3.—J. M. Neale, Sermons on the Song of Songs, pp. 70, 76. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xix. No. 1120. II. 4.—J. M. Neale, Sermons on the Song of Songs, p. 85. C. Silvester Horne, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lviii. 1900, p. 369. II. 7.—Ibid. vol. lviii. 1900, p. 369. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxv. No. 1463.
Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth: for thy love is better than wine.
Because of the savour of thy good ointments thy name is as ointment poured forth, therefore do the virgins love thee.
Draw me, we will run after thee: the king hath brought me into his chambers: we will be glad and rejoice in thee, we will remember thy love more than wine: the upright love thee.
I am black, but comely, O ye daughters of Jerusalem, as the tents of Kedar, as the curtains of Solomon.
Look not upon me, because I am black, because the sun hath looked upon me: my mother's children were angry with me; they made me the keeper of the vineyards; but mine own vineyard have I not kept.
Tell me, O thou whom my soul loveth, where thou feedest, where thou makest thy flock to rest at noon: for why should I be as one that turneth aside by the flocks of thy companions?
If thou know not, O thou fairest among women, go thy way forth by the footsteps of the flock, and feed thy kids beside the shepherds' tents.
I have compared thee, O my love, to a company of horses in Pharaoh's chariots.
Thy cheeks are comely with rows of jewels, thy neck with chains of gold.
We will make thee borders of gold with studs of silver.
While the king sitteth at his table, my spikenard sendeth forth the smell thereof.
A bundle of myrrh is my wellbeloved unto me; he shall lie all night betwixt my breasts.
My beloved is unto me as a cluster of camphire in the vineyards of Engedi.
Behold, thou art fair, my love; behold, thou art fair; thou hast doves' eyes.
Behold, thou art fair, my beloved, yea, pleasant: also our bed is green.
The beams of our house are cedar, and our rafters of fir.