Chapter 4 – Wedding Days

“In that day they shall call me Ishi, and no longer Baali.” Hosea 2:16. The Song of Solomon 3:6 to 5:1.

This beautiful section of the Song of Solomon describes the wedding scene in the old Oriental poem. It begins with a picture of the marriage procession coming up from the wilderness, the former home of the bride, amid clouds of fragrance, which look like pillars of smoke in the distance. She is borne in the litter or palanquin of King Solomon, and is guarded by the band of threescore valiant men who march before and behind the royal bride to protect her from danger and “fear in the night.” She is met by the king in a chariot of silver and gold, lined with costly tapestries presented by the daughters of Jerusalem as a gift of love, and the royal bridegroom is crowned with a diadem of beauty and glory presented by his mother’s loving hands.

The marriage procession fades into the meeting of the bridegroom and the bride, and we next listen to his greeting of Shulamith and his words of admiration as he welcomes her with love and praise (Chap. 4 verses 1-16), and then leaves her for the remainder of the day and until the evening shadows flee away, when he will come again, after all the marriage preparations are complete, to claim her as his bride, and to take part in the wedding ceremonies and the wedding feast. Returning in the evening he greets her with words of still stronger admiration and love (verse 7), “Thou art all fair, my love. There is no spot in thee.” And then he pleads with her to turn her thoughts away from Lebanon, her old home, and turn her eye with single purpose and thought to him alone. He now calls her for the first time his spouse. The remaining verses of chapter 4 are the outpourings of his full heart, as he loves to dwell on the sweetness of her who has satisfied his soul’s deepest love. All the most exquisite imagery of an Oriental land is laid under tribute to praise the beauty and sweetness of the bride — the sweetness of the honeycomb, the exhilarance of wine, the smell of costly ointments, the rich fragrance of Lebanon, the beauty of the garden, the freshness of the fountains, the fruitfulness of the pomegranate, the manifold variety and delicacy of the perfumes of camphor, saffron, calamus, cinnamon, frankincense, myrrh, aloes, and all the chief spices — all these pale before the sweetness of her love.

At length we hear her response (in verse 16), as she turns all her being to his love and calls upon the north wind and the south wind to blow upon her garden that its spices may flow out, and then invites her beloved to come into her garden and accept it as his own.

The scene closes with the bridegroom’s response to her as he accepts her offered gift of herself, and then, turning to the invited guests and friends, bids them welcome to the marriage feast, “Eat, oh friends, yea, drink abundantly, oh beloved.”

The great spiritual truth which all this Oriental imagery covers in our union with the Lord Jesus Christ, the true Bridegroom of the church and of the heart. First we see the coming of the bride to meet the bridegroom. She comes up from the wilderness. It is there that Christ always calls His Bride. “I will allure her and bring her into the wilderness,” he says to her, “and there will I speak to her heart, and in that day she shall call me Husband, and I will give her vineyards from thence and the valley of Achor for a door of hope, and she shall sing there as in the days of her youth.” It is usually out of the deep, dark, lonely place of trial that we come into our deepest intimacy with Jesus and know the fullness of His love.

The pillars of smoke amid which she came are figures of the sweet fragrance of the heart, the incense of love, the one offering which makes the most unworthy and insignificant acceptable to the remembrance of love. This is all the bride has to bring, her love, but it is so deep, and rich, and sweet, that it fills all the air with clouds of fragrance and pillars of smoke.

Once in the desert a wandering Arab found a spring. The water was so delicious that he could not keep it to himself, but filling a leathern flask he bore it across the desert a hundred miles in the hot sun and sand, and presented it to his chief as an offering of his love. The water was all corrupted before it reached the prince, and when he tasted it, it had no sweetness, but he betrayed no sign of its unpleasantness and thanked the kind bestower and sent him back laden with honors. His princes afterwards tasted the water, curious to know what strange charm it possessed, but to them it was loathsome, and they looked with astonishment and disgust at their chief. “Oh,” said he, “it had for me a taste which you could not discern. It was the taste of love. The kindness of heart that brought it was all that I could see, and I would not for the world have let him know that his gift itself was so worthless, because the love that brought it made it of infinite value.” Beloved, we may be poor and unworthy, but if we bring to Jesus a heart of love, it will be to Him a priceless treasure, of surpassing intrinsic values. In the wedded life there can be no substitute for love. Without it marriage is a hideous mockery, and in Christian life and our relationship with Jesus Christ, without love we are but sounding brass and tinkling cymbals, and all our theories, ceremonies and religious forms are an offensive sham, and, notwithstanding all that we may do, or think, or say, His sentence can only be, “Thou hast left thy first love. Because thou art luke-warm I will spew thee out of my mouth.”

Next we see the chariot of the bride. It was furnished by her husband and defended by his own body guard. And so, as we come into our place of chosen intimacy with Jesus Christ, it is He Himself who bears us into this higher plane. The very love that brings us to His bosom is His own heavenly gift. The very power to rise to meet Him in this wondrous union is from Him. He bears us to His palace and to His heart in His own chariot. The Holy Spirit will teach us the wondrous secret of heavenly love, and often we will say, like the bride a little later, “Or ever I was aware my soul made me like the chariot of Amminadib.” The guards around the chariot that bore her to her beloved suggest to us the perils that surround us as we walk in the closer places of Christian experience. There is no place so full of peril as that which lies nearest to the gates of heaven and to the arms of Jesus. The fallen spirits of the air, the emissaries of Lucifer, son of the morning, are not only spirits of light but spirits of love, and there is a false love that would lower us to the depths of ruin as well as a true love that would lift us to the heights of heaven. Many a heart has been beguiled and seduced by lying spirits to a kind of love that is not the love-life of the Lord; and, yielding to some delusive charm that claimed to be from heaven, the soul has lost its purity, and instead of becoming the bride of the Lamb has become an unholy partner of Satanic power. Thus, alas, the once pure church of apostolic days became the harlot of the great apostasy, and that which was so terribly fulfilled in the church has often been made as real in the individual life. This is the day, especially, when spiritualism, spiritism, theosophy, science falsely so called, and morbid sentimentalism, under the guise of leadings of the Spirit, are betraying many hearts into the sad and sinful counterfeit of the love-life of the Lord. But through God the heart that is wholly His will be guarded by His almighty hand, and the chariot of heavenly love will be defended by the armed hosts of His power and holiness. Let us keep our eye singly upon Him, our heart wholly true to Him, and let us not fear to draw nigh, for His guardian presence and heavenly panoply will protect us even from the wiles of the devil, and we shall walk in the narrow paths of the heavenly life safe from all danger and fear even in the night, and His jealous and mighty love will guard us like a chaste virgin from even the breath of defilement.

We see in this picture the coming of the Bridegroom to meet his bride. He, too, has a chariot of silver, and gold, and royal purple, the gift of the daughters of Jerusalem, and, as he meets his bride, his head is crowned with the crown of love, and his heart is full of gladness in the day of his espousals.

Our beloved Lord would have us understand that His heart is as glad as ours in the consummation of His union with us. He has chosen us as the object of His peculiar and eternal love, and He needs our love as we need His. We may not be able to understand why one so much above us can be satisfied with the affection of those so unworthy of Him, but there is always something in love that is inexplicable. It has no reason but itself, and He has loved us just because He has loved us and in a measure altogether out of proportion to any claim or fitness in the objects of that love. We contribute to His joy as well as to our own when we yield our hearts to our best Friend. Surely He has a right to claim from us the return which His love deserves. He has given up all else; this is His only portion. Let us not rob Him of any part of it.

The Bridegroom’s welcome to his bride. His first words are a tribute to her loveliness, ending with the unqualified words of praise, “Thou art all fair, my love. There is no spot in thee.” This is high praise to give, but it is the praise He longs to give to every one of His sanctified ones. It is not too high for the blood of Christ to cover. The soul that is washed in that fountain and robed in His spotless garments is whiter than the snow and spotless as Christ Himself. It is not that our personal character is perfect, but passing out of ourselves into Him and filled with Him, we are indeed able to claim even His own mighty assurance, “Now ye are clean through the word that I have spoken unto you.”

Let us dare to believe it on the authority of His Word, and we shall please Him far better than when we are continually holding up the spots of our own unworthiness and betraying before His gaze the wretched corpses that He would have us bury forever out of sight.

A call to detach her thoughts and her affections altogether from former objects of attraction and fix her single eye on Him alone. “Come with me from Lebanon, my sister spouse.” That is, withdraw thy thoughts from Lebanon thy old home, from the fair scenes of thy childhood, from the tender associations of the past, from the beautiful Amana and Shenir. Forget thy kindred and thy father’s house, and let thy thoughts be all mine. This is His call to us to let every other interest and affection be concentrated in His great love, and when we do this then alone shall we satisfy His heart. God’s love is jealous for our own good as well as for His own glory, and He cannot accept a divided heart in a bond so dear as that of marriage.

His delight in her singleness of eye and heart. Thou hast ravished my heart with one of thine eyes. She has responded to his appeal; she has given him all her heart. She has dropped the far-off look from her longing gaze, and every thought and affection is centered in Him alone, and the beautiful words which He uses in the parallel picture in Hosea are true of her. “Thou shalt abide for me, and I for thee.” This is the secret of a consecrated and happy life, and the only life that can satisfy our Lord. Beloved, has He got all our eye and all our heart?

His higher tribute to her sweetness and love. He compares her in the closing verse of the chapter to the fountains, fruits and fragrance of an Oriental garden. “A garden enclosed is my sister spouse.” It is the enclosure of the garden which constitutes the secret of its value. It is not open to the trampling feet of all the wild creatures of the woods, but it is enclosed for Him alone and guarded from the desecrating tread of others. This is the reason why our blessings so often fade away or leak out as from open vessels. We are not enclosed, but like a garden open to the wild beasts of the field and the destroying, desecrating tramp of every unclean thing. We receive a blessing in the house or at the altar of prayer, and lo! before an hour we have lost it and wonder why. The reason is very plain. Some idle talker has talked it all away, some vain and volatile flood of thoughts and imaginations has taken possession of our heart, and lo! the Holy Dove, disgusted, has taken His flight. Some wretched, miserable, idle conversation or unholy gossip has been permitted to occupy our attention, the garden gate has been opened and lo! the flowers and fruits are trodden down by unholy feet or devoured by rapacious mouths. Our God will not abide in company with Belial. If we would know the joy of the Lord and have our Beloved dwell with us, we must enclose our garden in the walls of holy separation, and coming out from among them and touching no unclean thing, He will receive us and we shall be His sons and His daughters, yea, the Bride of His exclusive affection. The same thought is expressed by the fountain sealed, the spring shut up. It is the picture of a heart separated unto God. It is the compression of the spring that gives it its impelling power and sends the waters high up sometimes in their heavenward flow, and keeps them ever fresh and pure. The narrower the torrent’s channel, the mightier its rush of waters. The broad stream becomes a stagnant swamp, and the heart that has room for all promiscuous things ceases to have any deep love for anything, and Christ will not accept its mixtures and compromises. “Because he hath set his love upon me,” He says of the single heart, “therefore will I deliver him.” “Delight thyself also in the Lord and He shall give thee the desires of thine heart.”

Next we have the fruitfulness of the garden, “An orchard of pomegranates and of pleasant fruits.” It is singular that the pomegranate should be the only fruit specified. If you ever examined one you may see the reason. Cut this singular-looking fruit through the center and look at a section of it as it is exposed by the knife, and your attention will be at once attracted, not to the rich color of the fruit, or even to its delicious perfume or taste, but, above everything else, to its countless seeds. It is one mass of little germs, there being enough in a single pomegranate to multiply it a thousandfold. The fruit which God wants from His children is fruit that reproduces itself in other souls. The grace that has saved us can just as well save the world. The blessing that we have received can be multiplied by all the people that are willing to accept it, and God wants each of us to be a seed which will spring forth and bear fruit, if not as much as the pomegranate, at least some thirty, some sixty and some an hundredfold. Our salvation is not a selfish luxury, but a sacred trust; our every new experience is given us for some other more than for ourselves. All that God does for us is intended by Him to be reflected and transmitted through our lives, so that on account of us the wilderness and the solitary place shall rejoice, and the desert shall blossom as the rose. Beloved, is our Master able to delight in us as in His Bride because of our fruitfulness? Is our life repeating itself, not by hard effort but by spontaneous and springing life?

But there is something far higher than fruit, and so the next characteristic of the Lord’s garden, and the one that is emphasized in sevenfold variety and fullness, is fragrance. No less than seven different kinds of spices are mentioned in the verses that follow. Some of them are familiar to us, others are less known, but all express the idea of sweetness, of the devotion of love, of the inexpressible atmosphere of heavenliness. The perfume is the soul of the plant. It expresses the finer, the more delicate essence of its life. It stands for that in our Christian experience and in the outgoing of our heart, which is Divinest, most sensitive, spiritual and devout. It is the very aroma of the heart, and it is in this that our beloved Lord most delights, and by this that the hearts of men are to be most deeply touched. Some of the spices mentioned here are quite suggestive. The aloe was a bitter spice, and it tells of the sweetness of bitter things, the bittersweet, which has its own fine application that only those can understand who have felt it. The myrrh was used to embalm the dead, and it tells of death to something. It is the sweetness which comes to the heart after it has died to its self-will, and pride, and sin. Oh, the inexpressible charm that hovers about some lives simply because they bear upon their chastened countenance and mellow spirit the impress of the cross, the holy evidence of having died to something that was once proud and strong but is now forever at the feet of Jesus, nay, in His bottomless tomb. They are far sweeter for having had it and died to it than if they never had possessed the proud will and died to the strong desire. It is the heavenly charm of a broken spirit and a contrite heart, the music that springs from the minor key, the sweetness that comes from the touch of the frost upon the ripened fruit.

And then the frankincense was a fragrance that came from the touch of the fire. It was the burning powder that rose in clouds of sweetness from the bosom of the flames. It tells of the heart whose sweetness has been called forth, perhaps by the flames of affliction, perhaps by the baptism of the Holy Ghost, the heavenly fire that kindles all the heart until the holy place of the soul is filled with clouds of praise and prayer. Beloved, are we giving out the spices, the perfumes, the sweet odors of the heart so that even as the traveler is conscious the moment he enters the waters of the Orient that he is near the land of the sun, and even as Milton sings,

“Far off at sea the soft winds blow Sabaean odors from the spicy shores of Araby the blest.”

The bride’s response. “Awake O north wind, and come thou south wind; blow upon my garden, that the spices thereof may flow out. Let my beloved come into his garden and eat his pleasant fruits.”

This is the surrender of the bride to her beloved with all the treasures of her affection and her life, and, at the same time, the acknowledgment of her dependence upon a higher power to evoke the sweetness that was slumbering in her being. Not even all the spices that he had named could send out their perfume until his own breath first blew upon them. It is the cry of dependence upon the Holy Spirit for every new breath of love or praise. We have not in our hearts a crystallized and stereotyped sweetness which is at our command, but we are simply the strings of an Aeolian harp, dead and silent unless breathed upon from above, and every motion or aspiration of piety, or prayer, or praise must be awakened afresh by the breath of God Himself. It is blessed to know that He does not expect us to even think a thought of ourselves. He is ready if we are but surrendered to Him, to blow upon our yielded hearts and awaken all the chords of melody; or, to change the figure, call forth all the breathings of heavenly love. He is both the north wind and the south wind, the wind that sharpens, braces, reproves, withers even, if need be, frosts sometimes with its cutting breath, and sweeps away the chaff, the rubbish and the withered leaves; and He is the south wind that comes with healing, with consolation, with sweet encouragement, with tender sympathy, with heavenly hope, with all the tenderness of brooding love. He knows how to adapt Himself to each of our changing moods and needs and the heart that is fully yielded to Him will accept either as He sends them and praise Him alike for both. Thus we see in her response the beautiful spirit of devotion to Him in all the rich fruition of her being. Her garden was for her Beloved and for none but Him. She did not wish to be sweet that others might see her sweetness, but that He might be satisfied. Oh! it is blessed and beautiful to shine for Christ alone, to be lovely that He may be glad, to pour rich ointment on His head and feet, to serve not the church or the people, but the Lord, and to have Him say of everything we do, even for others, “Ye did it unto me.” Beloved! is our garden all for Him? Is our love for Him, our prayer for Him, our sacrifice for Him, our recompense enough if He is pleased and if He approves, our motto this, “For me to live is Christ,” “that Christ may be magnified in my body whether it be by life or by death.”

The Bridegroom’s acceptance of her love and His generous invitation to the wedding guests. “I am come into my garden my sister, my spouse: I have gathered my myrrh with my spice; I have eaten my honeycomb with my honey; I have drunk my wine with my milk: eat, O friends; drink, yea, drink abundantly, O beloved.”

Not enough do we realize how much of our service is due to Christ Himself and how truly He appreciates and enjoys the riches of our affection. He accepts the surrender we make; He feeds upon the banquet we spread. He sups with us and enjoys as the recompense of the travail of His soul the little that we bring to Him, and then He gives it all to others, and nothing is so blessed to them as that which was first given to Christ. It is the heart that is wholly dedicated to Jesus that becomes the greatest blessing to mankind. It is the ointment which was poured on Jesus’ head which fills all the house with its odor. None can be such blessings to the world as those who, beyond all they do for the world, love and serve the Lord alone. It is when we come into the bosom of His love that we are able to stand, as the bride of the heavenly host at the gates of His palace, and invite His wandering children to the feast that His love has provided. “The Spirit and the Bride say come.” It is not until we become the Bride, and are thus filled with the Spirit, and able to represent the Bridegroom that we can say, “Come” in all the fullness of effectual power, and so say it that he that is athirst, shall come, and whosoever will, shall take the water of life freely. Oh! beloved, if we could be a perfect blessing to a sad and lost world, let us come and enter into the love-life of the Lord.