Look not on me, because I am black, because the sun has looked on me: my mother's children were angry with me…
The bride was most unhappy and ashamed because her personal beauty had been sorely marred by the heat of the sun. The fairest among women had become swarthy as a sunburnt slave. Spiritually it is so full often with a chosen soul. The Lord's grace has made her fair to look upon, even as. the lily; but she has been so busy about earthly things that the sun of worldliness has injured her beauty. The bride with holy shamefacedness exclaims, "Look not upon me, for I am black, because the sun hath looked upon me." This is one index of a gracious soul — that whereas the ungodly rush to and fro, and know not where to look for consolation, the believing heart naturally flies to its well-beloved Saviour, knowing that in Him is its only rest. It would appear from the preceding verse that the bride was also in trouble about a certain charge which had been given to her, which burdened her, and in the discharge of which she had become negligent of herself. "Mine own vineyard have I not kept." Under this sense of double unworthiness and failure, feeling her omissions and her commissions to be weighing her down, she turned round to her Beloved and asked instruction at His hands. This was well. Had she not loved her Lord she would have shunned Him when her comeliness was faded, but the instincts of her affectionate heart suggested to her that He would not discard her because of her imperfections. She was, moreover, wise thus to appeal to her Lord against herself. Never let sin part you from Jesus. Under a sense of sin do not fly from Him; that were foolishness. Sin may drive you from Sinai; it ought to draw you to Calvary.
I. Here is A QUESTION ASKED. Every word of the inquiry is worthy of our careful meditation. You will observe, first, concerning it, that it is asked in love. She calls Him to whom she speaks by the endearing title, "O Thou whom my soul loveth." Whatever she may feel herself to be, she knows that she loves Him. The life of her existence is bound up with Him: if there be any force and power and vitality in her, it is but as fuel to the great flame of her love, which burns alone for Him. Mark well that it is not "O Thou whom my soul believes in." That would be true, but she has passed further. It is not "O Thou whom my soul honours." That is true too, but she has passed beyond that stage. Nor is it merely "O Thou whom my soul trusts and obeys." She is doing that, but she has reached something warmer, more tender, more full of fire and enthusiasm, and it is "O Thou whom my soul loveth." The question therefore becomes instructive to us, because it is addressed to Christ under a most endearing title; and I ask every worker here to take care that he always does his work in a spirit of love, and always regards the Lord Jesus not as a taskmaster, not as one who has given us work to do from which we would fain escape, but as our dear Lord, whom to serve is bliss, and for whom to die is gain. "O Thou whom my soul loveth," is the right name by which a worker for Jesus should address his Lord. Now note that the question, as it is asked in love, is also asked of Him. "Tell me, O Thou whom my soul loveth, where Thou feedest." She asked Him to tell her, as if she feared that none but Himself would give her the correct answer; others might be mistaken, but He could not be. She asked of Him because she was quite sure that He would give her the kindest answer. Perhaps she felt that nobody else could tell her as He could, for others speak to the ear, but He speaks to the heart: others speak with lower degrees of influence, we hear their speech but are not moved thereby; but Jesus speaks, and the Spirit goes with every word He utters, and therefore we hear to profit when He converses with us. Now, observe what the question is. She wishes to know how Jesus does His work, and where He does it. The question seems to be just this: "Lord, tell me what are the truths with which Thou dost feed Thy people's souls; tell me what are the doctrines which make the strong ones weak and the sad ones glad: tell me what is that precious meat which Thou art wont to give to hungry and fainting spirits, to revive them and keep them alive; for if Thou tell me, then I will give my flock the same food: tell me where the pasture is wherein Thou dost feed Thy sheep, and straightway I will lead mine to the selfsame happy fields. Then tell me how Thou makest Thy people to rest. What are those promises which Thou dost apply to the consolation of their spirit, so that their cares and doubts and fears and agitations all subside? Thou hast sweet meadows where Thou makest Thy beloved flock to lie calmly down and slumber, tell me where those meadows are that I may go and fetch the flock committed to my charge, the mourners whom I ought to comfort, the distressed ones whom I am bound to relieve, the desponding whom I have endeavoured to encourage; tell me, Lord, where Thou makest Thy flock to lie down, for then, under Thy help, I will go and make my flock to lie down too. It is for myself, but yet far more for others, that I ask the question, 'Tell me where Thou feedest, where Thou makest them to rest at noon.'" We would know the groves of promise and the cool streams of peace, that we may lead others into rest. If we can follow Jesus we can guide others, and so both we and they will find comfort and peace. That is the meaning of the request before us.
II. Here is AN ARGUMENT USED. The bride says, "Why should I be as one that turneth aside by the flocks of Thy companions?" If she should lead her flock into distant meadows, far away from -the place where Jesus is feeding His flock, it would not be well. She speaks of it as a thing most abhorrent to her mind, and well might it be. For, first, would it not look very unseemly that the bride should be associating with others than the Bridegroom? They have each a flock: there is He with His great flock, and here is she with her little one. Shall they seek pastures far off from one another? Will there not be talk about this? Will not onlookers say, "This is not seemly: there must be some lack of love here, or else these two would not be so divided"? Stress may be put, if you like, upon that little word "I." Why should I, Thy blood-bought spouse; I, betrothed unto Thee, or ever the earth was, I, whom Thou hast loved, — why should I turn after others and forget Thee? Our hearts may grow unchaste to Christ even while they are zealous in Christian work. I dread very much the tendency to do Christ's work in a cold, mechanical spirit; but above even that I tremble lest I should be able to have warmth for Christ's work and yet should be cold towards the Lord Himself. Beware of that I Love your work, but love your Master better; love your flock, but love the great Shepherd better Still, and ever keep close to Him, for it will be a token of unfaithfulness if you do not. And mark again, "Why should I be as one that turneth aside by the flocks of Thy companions?" We may read this as meaning, "Why should I be so unhappy as to have to work for Thee, and yet be out of communion with Thee?" It is a very unhappy thing to lose fellowship with Jesus. and yet to have to go on with religious exercises. If the wheels are taken off your chariot it is no great matter if nobody wants to ride, but how if you are called upon to drive on? When a man s foot is lamed he may not so much regret it if he can sit still, but if he be bound to run a race he is greatly to be pitied. It made the spouse doubly unhappy even to suppose that she, with her flock to feed and herself needing feeding too, should have to turn aside by the flocks of others and miss the presence of her Lord. Above all, should we not try to live as a church, and individually, also, in abiding fellowship with Jesus; for if we turn aside from Him we shall rob the truth of its aroma, yea, of its essential fragrance. If we lose fellowship with Jesus we shall have the standard, but where will be the standard-bearer? We may retain the candlestick, but where shall be the light? We shall be shorn of our strength, of our joy, our comfort, our all, if we miss fellowship with Him. God grant, therefore, that we may never be as those who turn aside.
III. We have here AN ANSWER GIVEN by the Bridegroom to His beloved. She asked Him where He fed, where He made His flock to rest, and He answered her. Observe carefully that this answer is given in tenderness to her infirmity; not ignoring her ignorance, but dealing very gently with it. "If thou know not" — a hint that she ought to have known, but such a hint as kind lovers give when they would fain forbear to chide. The Lord forgives our ignorance, and condescends to instruct it. Note next that the answer is given in great love. He says, "O thou fairest among women." That is a blessed cordial for her distress. She said, "I am black"; but He says, "O thou fairest among women. I would rather trust Christ's eyes than mine. If my eyes tell me I am black I will weep, but if He assures me I am fair I will believe Him and rejoice. As the artist, looking on the block of marble, sees in the stone the statue which he means to fetch out of it with matchless skill, so the Lord Jesus sees the perfect image of Himself in us, from which He means to chip away the imperfections and the sins until it stands out in all its splendour" But still it is gracious condescension which makes Him say, "Thou art fairest among women," to one who mourned her own sunburnt countenance. The answer contains much sacred wisdom. The bride is directed where to go that she may find her Beloved and lead her flock to Him. "Go thy way forth by the footprints of the flock." If thou wilt find Jesus, thou wilt find Him in the way the holy prophets went, in the way of the patriarchs and the way of the apostles. And if thou dost desire to find thy flock, and to make them lie down, very well, go thou and feed them as other shepherds have done — Christ's own shepherds whom He has sent in other days to feed His chosen. Make the Lord Jesus your model and example; and by treading where the footprints of the flock are to be seen, you will both save yourself and them that hear you; you shall find Jesus, and they shall find Jesus too. Then the spouse added, "Feed thy kids beside the shepherds tents, Now, who are these shepherds? Let me take you to the twelve principal shepherds who came after the great Shepherd of all. You want to bless your children, to save their souls, and have fellowship with Christ in the doing of it; then teach them the truths which the apostles taught. And what were they? Take Paul as an example. "I determined not to know anything among you save Jesus Christ, and Him crucified." That is feeding the kids beside the shepherds' tents, when you teach our children Christ, much of Christ, all of Christ, and nothing else but Christ. Mind you stick to that blessed subject. And when you are teaching them Christ, teach them all about His life, His doeth, His resurrection; teach them His Godhead and His manhood. Preach regeneration. Let it be seen how thorough the change is, that we may glorify God's work. Preach the final perseverance of the saints. Teach that the Herd is not changeable — casting away His people, loving them to-day and hating them to-morrow. Preach in fact, the doctrines of grace as you find them in the Book. Feed them beside the shepherds tents. Aye, and feed the kids there — the little children.
( C. H. Spurgeon.)
Parallel VersesKJV: 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.