The Heavenly Bridegroom
Tom Wilson, Levin, New Zealand
There is an increasing tendency, even among evangelicals, to view The Song of Solomon as simply a love story concerning Solomon and a Shulammite maiden. However, in the past many respected bible teachers have seen beyond this to a vivid portrayal of Christ as the heavenly Bridegroom with His bride, the church.
Those who limit The Song of Solomon are part of a trend away from the Messianic word pictures of the Old Testament. We should remember however that the risen Christ thrilled the hearts of two unnamed disciples on the way to Emmaus by 'interpreting (Newberry) unto them in all the scriptures (i.e., the Old Testament) the things concerning himself', Luke 24. 27.
The Song of Solomon influenced New Testament writers in their description of the relationship of the church to Christ. For example, Paul wrote, '1 have betrothed you to one husband, that I may present you (the church) as a chaste virgin to Christ', 2 Cor. 11. 2b NKJV. It is our purpose here by way of illustration to look at one section of the book, chapters 1. 12 to 2. 4.
To understand The Song of Solomon we must distinguish between the speakers. Modern punctuation makes this clear but some older versions do not. For example, there are probably seven breaks, involving two speakers, in the verses before us: chapters 1. 12-14; 16; 2. 1; 3-4, the Bridge; chapters 1. 15; 17; 2. 2, the Bridegroom (although there is some variation among bible scholars in dividing this passage).
Failing to make this distinction has led some to think that chapter 2 verse 1 can be applied to the Lord. But 'I am the rose of Sharon, and the lily of the valleys', was clearly spoken by the Shulammite of herself. Therefore the prophetic interpretation can only concern the church.
The 'rose' was probably a common meadowland plant, perhaps the crocus. And the 'lily' obviously grew wild, cf. v. 2. Dennis F. Kinlaw points out that it may in fact have been the hyacinth (cf. The Expositor's Bible Commentary, Zondervan, p. 1222.)
What we have here, then, is the bride confessing that her beauty was commonplace compared to Solomon's. Any excellence was bestowed by her beloved Bridegroom. Is that not true of the Church? Our beauty before God is in Christ alone; 'all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags' compared to His perfection, Isa. 64. 6.
In the passage we can see at least three aspects of the righteousness of our Lord Jesus Christ:
The Shulamite says of Solomon, 'While the king is at his table, my spikenard sends forth its fragrance. A bundle of myrrh is my beloved to me', vv. 12, 13. Spikenard, or nard, was an ointment made from an Indian plant. It was both fragrant and expensive, and widely used as a love charm. Myrrh, a gum which came from Indian and Arabian trees, was also valued for its perfume and for making incense.
It was customary in ancient days for a betrothed woman to bear myrrh in a sachet round her neck, even when sleeping, v. 13b. This was a constant reminder of her beloved, the one she cared for above all others.
Ought we not to have the fragrance of Christ our Beloved ever before us? As the bride of Christ, the church should be constant in her love. Peter wrote, 'Unto you therefore which believe he is precious', 1 Pet. 2. 7. And Paul, 'Christ also has loved us and given himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweetsmelling aroma', Eph. 5. 2 NKJV. He is not only fragrant to us, but to the Father.
The Shulamite went on, 'My beloved is unto me as a cluster of camphire (more correctly, 'henna blooms') in the vineyards of En-gedi', v. 14.
Here we have an ancient picture of outstanding beauty. En-gedi was an oasis on the west coast of the Dead Sea (to which David fled to escape Saul, 1 Sam. 23. 29; 24. 1). It was there that henna blossoms stood out in white clusters, sharply contrasting with the arid landscape around the oasis. The leaves were used to produce a much-sought-after bright orange-red cosmetic dye for hair, hands and feet colouring.
The picture is clear: the Shulamite's beloved was distinctive in his beauty and outstanding in his person. He was wonderful beyond description. She would later add, 'Yea, he is altogether lovely. This is my beloved', 5. 16.
In adoration, John described the Lord as 'full of grace and truth', John 1. 14. He may well have been reflecting on the occasion when he beheld Christ transfigured, 'And his raiment became shining, exceeding white as snow; so as no fuller on earth can white them ('no launderer on earth can whiten them')', Mark 9. 3.
Our Saviour's beauty excels blooms and leaves of henna! Yet at Calvary, as He bore our load of our sin, the prophet foresaw that there would be 'no beauty that we should desire him,' or as the NASB, 'no stately form or majesty that we should look upon him, nor appearance that we should be attracted to him', Isa. 53. 2.
The bride then says, 'As an apple tree among the trees of the wood, so is my beloved among the sons (young men)', 2. 3. Here is a twofold picture of the Bridegroom's care and provision for His beloved: shelter and nourishment. The apple tree both protected from the blazing sun and gave refreshment and strength through its fruit.
The Shulamite's beloved cared for her above all others; her attitude was one of absolute trust. His love had won her love. And He would provide, whatever her needs would be.
And our Beloved has won us by His love, 1 John 4. 19. In that chapter the writer speaks of love 23 times; it is as though he could not express it sufficiently or describe it adequately. Certainly, a love greater than Solomon's.
Shall we not join with the Shulamite, 'I sat down under his shadow with great delight, and his fruit was sweet to my taste. He brought me to his banqueting house, and his banner over me was love', 2. 3b-4?
We love Him because of who He is, and for all He has done. The fragrance of His perfect life, presented as 'an offering and a sacrifice to God for sweet-smelling savour (aroma)', Eph. 5. 2. The beauty of His holiness, 'as of a lamb without blemish and without spot', 1 Pet. 1. 19.
And the wonder of His care for His beloved, 'Lo, I am with you alway (all the days), even unto the end of the world (age)', Matt. 28. 20b.