Chapter 5 – Testing Days

“Who is she that looketh forth as the morning, fair as the moon, clear as the sun, and terrible as an army with banners.” Song of Solomon 6:10.

The structure of this section of the Song of Solomon is very clear and simple. The marriage is over and the bride’s first trial comes. It is a very serious trial and the cause of it is chiefly her own folly. Lying asleep at night in her chamber, her bridegroom comes to the door, knocks upon it and speaks to her, requesting her to open and admit him. Half asleep and self-indulgent she reluctantly answers, “I have put off my coat, how shall I put it on? I have washed my feet, how shall I defile them?” but as he still lingers, she rises and with fingers dropping with myrrh, freshly anointing herself to receive him, she opens the door. But she is too late. Chilled by the delay, he has gone. She searches for him up and down the streets in the darkness, but in vain. She wanders, anxious and half-crazed, through the town in the darkness, but she finds him not. She meets the watchmen on her way and they treat her with rudeness and harshness, and the keepers of the walls insult her, until heartbroken and disappointed, she cries to her maidens, “If ye find my beloved, tell him that I am sick of love.” Then her maidens tempt her by asking her what is her beloved more than any other beloved, and perhaps insinuate that there are plenty others just as good if she will only consent to let him go. It is then that her true nobility and fidelity shine out in spite of her mistake. Faithfully she answers, with words of love and devotion, that her beloved is the chief among ten thousand and altogether lovely, and not only lovely, but true to her, and though she cannot find him, she persists in telling of her beloved and her devotion to him, summing it all up in the testimony, “I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine.” Then it is that he rewards her faithful heart by suddenly appearing and greeting her with words of warmest admiration and boundless praise, calling her beautiful as Tirzah, comely as Jerusalem, majestic as an army with banners. Then her maidens join in the chorus of admiration and utter perhaps a little later in the drama, probably as she goes from her chamber in the morning, fresh with her loveliness, “Who is she that looketh forth as the morning, fair as the moon, clear as the sun, and terrible as an army with banners?” They beg her to dance for them the simple dance of Mahanaim, and, as she grants their request, they break out again with their ascriptions of praise. “How beautiful are thy feet with shoes, oh prince’s daughter,” etc., until their chorus is interrupted by the appearance of the bridegroom once more, and the scene closes with his fresh tribute of affection and admiration (Chap.7:6-9), closing with her response of complete devotion, “I am my beloved’s and his desire is toward me.”

The spiritual lessons of all this part of the drama may be summed up as follows:

Her failure. It was a lack of prompt obedience to his call and this is ever sure to bring us sorrow, separation and loss. The first counsel given by the apostles to those who had received the Holy Spirit, is, “that they who are of the Spirit do mind the things of the Spirit.” The closer we come to Christ, the more must we be subject to His call. Love is jealous and divine love wants us ever at its summons and quickly responsive to its faintest whisper. There is no greater word in the Christian’s experience than the word OBEY. “God hath given His Spirit to them that obey him.” Christ has made the manifestation of His peculiar love dependent upon this very thing. “If any man love me, he will keep my commandments — and I will love him and manifest myself unto him.” The intimate and abiding communion of Jesus is wholly dependent upon our obedience and responsiveness to His voice. The causes of her failure were indolence and self-indulgence. This was the great slight to her lord. She had preferred her comfort to his. She could lie in luxurious ease while he was standing outside the door, his head wet with the dews and his locks with the drops of the night. What a sad picture of a bridegroom and a bride! What a sad, sad symbol of the attitude of the Lord Jesus Christ with respect to the very church that He has redeemed and wedded to Himself. She in luxury and selfishness, and He out in the cold and the darkness. The spirit of indolence, languor, and slothfulness are largely responsible for our frequent despondence, and therefore our Master has said, “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” It is true she responded at length and opened the door, but she did not do it promptly, and her obedience was too late. The same thing is not the same thing at different times. That which is done at once is twice done. The children of Israel were quite willing to enter the land of promise the day after the Lord summoned, but He would not go with them. In matters of mutual confidence, hesitation implies distrust or at least indifference, and it is fatal to the fine, delicate complexion of sensitive love. It is true she brought her hands full of myrrh and the door-handle dropped with sweetness as she touched it, but that was a poor substitute for the sweetness of the heart. Her myrrh was all lost for lack of prompt, obedient love. We may bring much to Christ as a substitute for love but it is all lost. “Whatsoever He saith unto thee, do it, and do it at once.” Beloved, learn in the life of abiding to be quick and to recognize and respond to the Master’s voice. Whether it be the call to prayer, or to stillness, or to service, or to sacrifice, let the heart quickly answer, “Yes.”

I will say, Yes, to Jesus,
Whatever He commands,
I will run to do His bidding,
With loving heart and hands.

I will listen to hear His whispers,
And learn His will each day.
And always gladly answer, yes,
Whatever He may say.

The humiliation and suffering which follows her failure. The first sad consequence of her mistake was the loss of her bridegroom’s presence and the slight and offense which he so deeply felt. He withdrew from her door and left her alone. There is no trial more deep and keen to a devout spirit than the loss of the Lord’s presence. That which once we did not value has now become the very essence of our life and happiness. And the moment that prevailing presence is gone we are conscious of a void that nothing else can fill, and an anguish that which none is more keen. There is a deep sense of Christ’s wounded love and the Holy Spirit’s withdrawal in grief and displeasure, and sometimes there is a deep and terrible dread upon the soul lest He may have taken His everlasting flight. “My God! My God! why hast thou forsaken me?” is its bitter cry. “O! that I knew where I might find Him, that I might come to His seat,” is its perplexed, distracted question. This is something quite different from the withdrawal of the Lord’s manifestations which He may be often pleased to take from the soul with which He has no controversy, simply to try the faith and teach to trust Himself in the dark, but this is something deeper and keener. It is the Lord saying, “I will go and return unto my own place, until they acknowledge their inequality.” There is a judicial severity in it which is meant to reprove the heart for its neglect and disobedience and it is a very keen and dreadful thing for a child of God to fall under the hand of its Father’s chastening; but the reason is very plain, and it is necessary that we shall learn it thoroughly and never forget it, and that henceforth whenever He speaks to us we shall instantly answer, “Yes.”

The next sad consequence of her failure was the long and painful seeking, and the cruel harshness of the watchmen whom she met on the street as she vainly sought her Lord. It is strange how hard it is to find our way back again when we get far from God. That which once seemed so simple is now as dark as night. The promise that once seemed to glow with light is all full of darkness and gloom. The throne of grace at which we knelt, where heaven came down our souls to greet, is surrounded with clouds and thick darkness. The very conception of Christ seems dim, and God Himself distant and strange. The delightful sense of nearness is gone, and we know not how to pray. We seem like one perplexed and distracted in the night, fluttering, bewildered, heartbroken. Poor soul away from thy Lord, thou art not the first one that cried in the night, “Oh, that I knew where I might find Him.” Let the recollection of thy misery be an everlasting restraint upon thy heart to abide henceforth ever near Him and quickly hearken to His voice and obey His slightest call. At such times others do not understand us; even the very watchmen on Zion’s walls seem lacking in tenderness and sympathy. They do not enter into our distress. They treat us with harshness. How often the very ministers of the gospel will say to some perplexed, troubled soul that has lost its consecration, or is seeking for a deeper life, as the writer himself has said in the earlier years of his ministry, “Oh, you are just a little melancholy, and sentimental, and nervous. All you want is a little fresh air, or good company, or medicine, to get out of the blues, and cheer up, and give up dreaming.” Often the unwise teacher will tempt the soul to abandon its notion of sanctification, to give the whole thing up as a delusion and come down to the ordinary plane of Christian life, and treat its former experience as a mistake. Sometimes the watchmen go further than this, and the erring one is treated with severity, rebuke and humiliation, rather than with tenderness, gentleness and helpfulness, and the soul at length turns away from all men, crying, like poor Job, “Miserable comforters are ye all.” “I will seek unto God; unto Him will I commit my cause.”

Still further, she is not only harshly treated by the watchmen, but actually tempted by her own companions. “What is thy beloved any more than any other beloved?” they tauntingly say. It is thus that the world comes to the lonely and aching heart, and tries to make it think that earthly love and pleasure can heal its wound and satisfy the aching void. “You have lost your new joy, but there are joys just as sweet that you may have with us. Return to your old friendships and accept the world’s smile.” Oh, how alluring is that which she sometimes holds out to the aching heart, and, alas, sometimes but too successfully does she apply her flattering appeals and fascinating charms, and many, for a time at least, have sunk back into the arms of the world and lost their first love. There is no time that Satan and the world tempt the heart so persuasively as when it has lost the joy of the Lord. It is a very perilous thing to allow disobedience or despondency to betray us into the hands of our enemy, who is only too ready to take advantage of his opportunity; but thank God if at such an hour we can, like her, stand fully armed in the panoply of love and repel all the world’s alluring appeals with the testimony of our faithfulness.

There is yet one more subtle temptation which the adversary applies in the hour of the soul’s desertion. “Where is thy beloved gone, thou fairest among women?” This is the taunt of our scornful foe, who would insinuate a doubt of our Bridegroom’s fidelity. “Has He left you? Is this the lover of whom you boasted so bravely? Has He deserted you so soon and left you to wander upon the streets in loneliness and humiliation? Is He after all not such a faithful lover as you thought? Perhaps you had better let Him go. Perhaps He has gone forever, and you had better stop searching for Him.” This was David’s experience when he cried out, “My tears have been my meat day and night, while they continually say unto me, ‘Where is thy God?’ Why go I mourning because of the oppression of the enemy? As with a sword in my bones mine enemies reproach me; while they say daily unto me, ‘Where is thy God?'” Oh, beloved, keep out of the path of the backslider. It is beset with snares and thorns, and if thou dost venture into it, “Thine own backslidings shall reprove thee, and thou shalt know that it is an evil thing and bitter that thou hast forsaken the Lord thy God.” But if you have wandered be not discouraged, stand firm amid all the temptation, like the bride, as we shall see, and when you are restored you shall remember the experience as an everlasting warning, and shall walk softly all your days closer to the side of your Beloved.

Her fidelity through all the trials of her faith and love. First, she continued seeking; she did not go back to bed again and fall asleep in languid indifference, but the moment she found out her mistake she endeavored to correct it, and continued to search for her lord until she found him. So, beloved, there is always this resource left you, “Ask, and it shall be given unto you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.” It is as true for the backslider as it is for the sinner. “Then shall ye find me when ye search for me with all your heart.” Next, she not only searched but she continued steadfast in her love. Her one continual testimony, when they asked her what was her beloved more than any other beloved, was that he was the chief among ten thousand and the altogether lovely. Not for a moment would she depreciate his charms or yield to a disparagement of his worth, but she boldly testified to his grace and beauty in the midst of all her trials; and, in the face of all her temptresses, her true and loving heart was immovable as a rock from its steadfast affection, and all the world could not tempt her to even a thought of disloyalty or compromise. So, beloved, even if you have lost the joy of your Lord, you can still retain the singleness of your purpose, the loyalty of your love, and cry, “Though I see Him not, yet I love Him; though I have sinned against Him, yet He knoweth that I love Him; though I have been foolish and forgetful, yet my heart is true; and, though all the world should tempt me, He and He alone shall be my Beloved; though I never see His face again, or hear His voice, yet I shall be true to Him in life and death forevermore.” Therefore she was not only steadfast in her devotion, but she retained her faith in his love to her with unfaltering confidence, and when they seemed to imply that he had deserted her, she still declared, “I am my beloved’s, and my beloved is mine. He is as true to me as I am to him, and, although he hides his face for a little, his heart, I know, has never changed. Although he forsake me, I will cling to him; though he slay me, I will trust him.” Dear friends, is this your attitude even in the darkness? “Who is there among you that followeth the Lord and obeyeth the voice of His servant, and hath no light? Let him trust in the name of the Lord.”

The appearing of her beloved. Suddenly he stands before her. He has heard her loving testimony, his heart has been moved with tenderness for all her trials, and she is dearer to him than ever as he sees her steadfast purpose, amid all the testing ordeal, to be his and his alone, and so he rewards her faithfulness. “Thou art beautiful, O my love, as Tirzah, comely as Jerusalem, and terrible as an army with banners. My dove, my undefiled is one.” It is Christ’s admiring testimony to the heart that stands true to Him through all the fiery trial. The old promise was ever fulfilled. “Hope thou in God, for I shall yet praise Him who is the health of my countenance and my God.”

Brighter than His first appearing, dearer than even the soul’s first love, is the hour when He comes again to the desolate and wandering heart. “For this is as the waters of Noah unto me,” He cries, as He renews His covenant, “for, as I have sworn that the waters of Noah shall no more go over the earth, so have I sworn that I will not be wroth with thee nor rebuke thee; for a small moment have I forsaken thee, but with great mercies will I gather thee; in a little wrath I have hidden my face for a moment, but with everlasting kindness will I have mercy upon thee,” said the Lord thy Redeemer. Oh, the joy of the restored heart when the Lord arises with healing in His wings, and the long night of waiting ends in a morning of joy.

Her new loveliness after her trials are over. “Who is this that looketh forth as the morning, fair as the moon, clear as the sun, and terrible as an army with banners?” her maidens ask, as they behold her happiness the morning after her bridegroom has returned. The last shadow of her sorrow has passed away, her face is bright as the morning and fresh as the morning dew. Her beauty is fair as the moon, and its luster has remained all through the night of sorrow. Her faith and love are glorious as the sun, and the strength of her character has come forth from the testing armed for all coming conflicts even as an army with banners.

The morning is especially the type of freshness. It speaks of a Christian life that is ever new, a buoyant spirit that ever springs with spontaneous life and fullness, like the springing dawn and the fresh zest which starts forth upon a new day with the complete oblivion of yesterday’s toil and care.

The moon is the beautiful figure of the light that shines in the darkness. It tells of the faith and love that live on in unclouded clearness even through the dark shades of the night. The sun tells of the stronger light for the service of the day, for endurance and trial is not the main business of life. It is a precious discipline to fit us for more strong and positive service. But the strong, clear light of the day is higher, even as the sunlight is better than moonlight, and after we have stood the test of the night and shone with the pure radiance of the moon, God sends us forth into the daylight and sunlight of service, and expects us to shed this strong light upon all around us and go forth in it ourselves to the work to which He calls us.

The last figure, an army with banners, tells of the strength that comes from the discipline of trial, the courage of faith, the precious, priceless lessons which fit us for the conflicts that lie before us. God wants us to be not only sweet, but strong; not only to be the joy of His heart, but a terror to the enemy of our souls and of His kingdom. It is not until we have fought that enemy in our own hearts that we are prepared to go forth in aggressive conflict and stand against him in the souls of others and the work of the gospel. It was after Christ had stayed forty days in the wilderness that He went forth in the power of the Spirit into Galilee and came out guiltless and triumphant over all the powers of darkness. This is the divine purpose of our testings. The trial of our faith is much more precious than gold that perisheth, even though it be tried with fire, that it might be found unto His praise and glory at the appearance of our Lord Jesus Christ. “No affliction for the present seemeth to be joyous but grievous, nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness to them that are exercised thereby; but the God of all grace who hath called us unto His eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after all ye have suffered, will make you perfect, stablish, strengthen and settle you, to whom be glory forever and ever, amen.” Beloved, is this the effect of your testings? Are they bringing into your life the freshness of the morning, the quiet light of the moon which shines on through the dark night, the clear light of day that fits you for the service and duties of your life, the settled strength and established purpose which enables you to withstand in the evil day, and to go forth in the strength of God in aggressive warfare against the devil and all his legions?

The deeper love into which her trials have brought her. There is a very beautiful order running through her testimonies regarding her love. Her first testimony is, “My beloved is mine and I am His.” This gives no prominence to his love for her, and there is, if possible, a little touch of selfishness in the thought of him as her first glad consciousness. A little later her testimony is, “I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine.” This speaks of a change in her attitude and thought. Her love to him and her entire surrender is the more prominent thought; but there is a third expression, a little later, after the return of his presence. It is simply this, “I am my beloved’s.” Every trace of selfishness in her love is gone, and her whole being is absorbed with the simple consciousness of being all his own. This is the crowning blessing of her trial. It brings her into a complete surrender and wholehearted devotion to him with her one concern to please him, to satisfy him, to glorify him, and even the enjoyment of him is lost in the thought of his enjoyment of her and delight in her. Surely sorrow has been crowned with infinite and eternal glory, and trial has been found unto praise, and honor, and glory in her happy experience. So may each of us stand in the hour of testing and find through our fiery trials a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.