How beautiful you are my love,
Beautiful as Tirzah,
Comely as Jerusalem,
Majestic as my bannered hosts! –
Turn your eyes away from me,
They dazzle me!
They have taken me by storm!
Your hair is like a flock of goats
Springing down Mount Gilead;
Your teeth are like a flock of ewes
Fresh from the dip,
Each ewe has twins
And none has cast its lamb;
Your cheeks are like pomegranate halves
Behind your veil.
(See how closely his language agrees with that of her shepherd lover. It is the same today. There are recognised forms of speech used by lovers, similes that occur again and again, always accepted by each age and clime. We are apt to be a trifle amused by some of their ancient terminology; no doubt they would have been by ours if they had been able to compare!
Consider the effect this language has on the girl. From the lips of her lover it is sweetness itself, but from the lips of another man it produces a sense of nausea. It has always been the same since the world began. Love is as strong as death.)
Behold my sixty queens
And eighty concubines,
And Court Ladies without number!
But none so fair as you,
My dove, my perfect one,
The only daughter of her mother,
Devoted to the mother who bore her!
Young maidens everywhere call you blessed!
Queens and concubines alike praise you!
(Recall my first words to you -)
“Who is this,
Who looks out like the dawn,
Beautiful as the Moon,
Bright as the Sun,
Majestic as the starry hosts of heaven?”
Suddenly the Shunemite realises that the King has given her an opportunity of explaining how everything happened. Rising from the couch and kneeling before him she expostulates on the circumstances of their first meeting. She says nothing new to the King, but hopes that it might end this nightmare.
I went down to that garden of nut trees
To look at the rushes by the stream,
To see if the vine had budded
Or pomegranates were in flower.
Of a sudden,
I came upon your Majesty’s retinue.
And in a moment of time
I was whisked away to Jerusalem
In the royal chariots of the nobility!
With this she arises from her knees, bows low before the King and excuses herself from his presence. It is not the ‘done thing’ but produces no harsh reaction from the King. He still finds her country ways and manners quite refreshing.
Come back, come back!
Come back 0 Shunemite maiden!
Come and let us gaze upon you!
With wide-eyed fear still registering on her face, she stops in her tracks and slowly returns to the dais. The ordeal is still not over. Once again she tries to speak.
What is it sire
That you find to gaze upon
In a mere Shunemite maiden?
I am naught to compare
With your troupe of trained dancers,
Why therefore do you gaze upon me?
The King is still amused at her ways, and beckons to her. She sits on the couch once more.
I see, as it were, the view of Mahanaim,
(A Levitical city of Gad, east of the river Jordan. A scene of great beauty.)
How beautiful are your sandalled feet
0 noble maiden!
The curves of your thighs are like jewels,
The work of a skilled craftsman;
Your navel is a rounded goblet
That shall never want for spiced wine;
Your body is a sheaf of wheat
Encircled with lilies;
Your two breasts are like fawns
The twin fawns of a gazelle;
Your neck is like a tower of ivory;
Your eyes are like the pools of Heshbon
By the Gate of Beth-Rabbim;
(These were the two man-made fishponds just outside the city of Heshbon. To one who approached from a distance they would at certain times of the day look like large eyes. They were quite circular in shape.)
Your nose is like towering Lebanon
That looks towards Damascus;
You carry your head like Carmel;
Your flowing hair is lustrous black
With tresses braided with ribbons!
How entrancing you are!
The King is captivated by you
O loved one,
Maiden of delights!
The King gently gathers her to himself –
You are stately as a palm tree,
And your breasts are the clusters of dates;
I said to myself
‘I will climb into the palm tree
And grasp its boughs;
I shall find your breasts
Like clusters of grapes on the vine,
The scent of your breath like apples
Your kisses like spiced wine
Flowing smoothly to welcome my caresses,
Gliding down between lips and teeth.
And so he takes her in his arms and gently lifts her veil. He imagines himself to be something of a Cassanova where women are concerned, always believing that in the end he can win them over. But the Shepherd Girl is stiff and unrelaxed, and there are tears in her eyes. She speaks falteringly as she wriggles clear of the King, once again to kneel before him on the carpeted dais.
I belong to my beloved,
And his desire is entirely for me.
All is lost. The King realises that he is beaten. He still respects her faithfulness to the one she loves, and lets her go. He summons a chamberlain and gives him instructions concerning the morning, to carry the girl’s belongings to the gateway of the city where the Shepherd Boy would be waiting. The time is now far spent, and little is left for sleep, and the Shunemite finds that she cannot let her mind rest after the hectic activities of the night. What really happened? Did her lover call for her? Or was it a trick of sleep, a dream planted there by those unseen powers of darkness to cause her harm? It would not be long now before she could find out for sure. She only hoped that it was a dream, because if not, then her lover must have been in some degree of danger, and where would he be in the morning? After tossing and turning, thinking and trying not to think, the sun rose over the capital and it was time to go.
The Court Ladies make her ready for her journey home, and bid her farewell. She now relaxes and thanks them for all their attentions on her behalf. The chamberlain escorts her to the city gates where sure enough her beloved is waiting just as he promised. They run to meet each other, a touching sight. One further word of farewell, and they are off together on the journey to Shunem. It will take more than a day, and they plan to stop off at one of the villages along the way, visiting friends their families have known for years.
Come my beloved,
Let us go out into the fields,
And lodge in the villages;
Let us go early to the vineyards
And see if the vine has flourished
And the tender grapes appeared,
And if the pomegranates are growing large.
(Instead of spring, it is now summer. This gives us some idea of how long the girl was detained by the King.)
It is there that I will renew my vows
And show my depth of love.
We are given just a few tantalising snippets of their conversation as they journey towards home, but sufficient to reveal all that is apposite to the story. The following conversation would seem to be appropriate to a time near the end of their journey, as they approach their home town.
The mandrakes are diffusing their fragrance
And at our doors
All manner of rare and choice fruits
Are laid up for you, my beloved.
Oh, if only you could be like my own true brother,
Who sucked the breasts or my mother,
Then if I found you
I could kiss you
And no one would despise me.
I could take you into my mother’s house,
And there she would teach me
How to love you;
And I would give you spiced wine to drink,
And the fresh juice of pomegranates,
And your left hand would be under my head,
And your right arm would embrace me.
She thinks back to the time when she restrained the Court Ladies from arousing her desires -Did I not charge you
O daughters of Jerusalem,
Not to arouse my emotions
Nor to influence my desires
Until I should be ready?
They are now within visible distance of home. Are they going to receive a sympathetic ear from her brothers and mother? Unknown to them, one of the brothers is out on the hillside on the other side of the valley, and as he tends the sheep he sees two people in the distance.
Who is this
Coming across the plains
Leaning on her beloved?
He is watching from the hills around Shunem and sees them in the plains of Esdraelon towards the region known as Jezreel. They get nearer to their home, and stop for a while under a well- known tree.
I awakened the love within your heart
Whilst we sat under this apple tree;
Indeed it was here that your mother gave birth to you!
Where she was in labour at the time of your birth.
Set me as a signet upon your heart,
As a seal upon your right hand,
Because love is as strong as death,
Deep desire as inexorable as Sheol,
It blazes up like a great conflagration,
Fiercer than any flames,
Even the vehement fires of God.
Many waters cannot quench love,
No flood can sweep it away;
If a man should offer the sum total of all his riches for love,
It would be utterly despised,
They now reach home. The Shepherd waits at a discrete distance while his beloved makes herself known to her mother and brothers. Such is the custom of the day. Hospitality is not lacking of the type for which eastern people have always been renowned. But at this moment a short family reunion is necessary, together with some explanations from the daughter. Her mother is perplexed, though glad to see her. She thought to see her daughter again at Jerusalem at a wedding ceremony, but now has to learn otherwise. But nevertheless she understands her daughter, which is more than her sons do. They seem a little disappointed at the turn of events. Having heard the whole story, they confer together.
We have a little sister
As yet without any breasts;
What shall we do for our sister
When she is asked in marriage?
If she is a wall
We shall build upon it a silver parapet;
If she is a door,
We shall ensure that it remains locked,
Barred with planks of cedar!
The brothers believe that their sister is too young to enter the state of matrimony, but they have not been too careful to watch her recent development! They have much pleasure in knowing that she has retained her virginity, and agree to continue their careful chaperoning until they consider her old enough for marriage. The Shepherd Girl overhears this conversation, and jumps to her own defence.
Indeed I am a wall!
But my breasts are like towers!
And so in his eyes
I am as one who can bring him much contentment.
But as for Solomon,
He has a vineyard at Baal-hamon
(A place in Mount Ephraim, near Samaria)
Which he has let out to husbandmen;
Should one wish to purchase its fruit
He must be prepared to bring a thousand pieces of silver!
(Such is the bounty I could have
enjoyed with the great King!)
But my vineyard is entirely my own.
Solomon may keep his thousand,
And the husbandmen their two hundred.
The brothers smile and relax. They all laugh together, and applaud the faithfulness shown by the girl for her beloved. It is not long before she can go outside and bring him into the family home, and he is well received.
My love, who dwells in the gardens,
What is it that my friends are saying?
Come, let me also hear your voice!
Come my beloved,
Show yourself once again!
Be my gazelle,
Be my young hart
On the mountains of spice!
Perfection! What better way could there be of telling him that all was well. The mountains of separation have gone for ever, and the mountains of spice have returned. In due course a wedding day will be announced, and throughout the whole region there will be great rejoicing.
The Song of Songs has great beauty, great worth, and great teaching potential. It sings the praise of true worth, set against the transitory glitter of riches, adulation, and pomp. The Shepherd Girl knew the difference between the true and the false, the lasting and the ephemeral, and remained constantly faithful throughout all her distressing trials. Such sterling love almost defies description.
Can we not see here a type of the Bride? Can we assume that in this world today there are believers in the Lord Jesus who HAVE SUCH A DEEP LOVE FOR HIM that even if they were offered the whole world, they would look upon it with disdain? This story speaks of a trial, a testing, which is so much more subtle than persecution, hate, and other forms of evil. It panders to the evil of vanity in mankind, and seeks to destroy faithfulness by the offer of material reward. The only sure defence a believer has under such strain is to know his Master, and love Him with all his soul, mind, and strength. But how can such a love develop? Only God knows the answer to this question. But an illuminating statement was made by our Lord on one occasion that merits mention. “He who has been forgiven much, loves much.” (Luke 7:47)