The Mystery of Babylon
The Song of Songs is the love song of Yahweh. It celebrates the story of His affection for His people Israel. Other books tell us of their political or ecclesiastical history: this exquisite poem is an impassioned series of pictures portraying their experiences from the tender standpoint of love. In it we can trace the story of Israel and her Lover from the slavery of Egypt until she is seated upon His throne, when she lives and reigns with Him a thousand years.
It is not proposed to give an exposition of this gem of literature. That would take us too far from our course and would be doing a wrong to the song itself, which is worthy of much more attention than can be accorded to it here. All we wish to do is to suggest the true interpretation and give sufficient extracts from the poem itself to confirm it.
So long as the church was thought to be the bride, a few random passages of special beauty were culled from the song as expressive of their affectionate relationship. Just as in the other Scriptures, a lone passage may seem to fit a misplaced truth, but no considerable context will support a false position, so it is with this song. The narrative as a whole cannot be made to fit the circumstances of the present ecclesia, even though isolated texts may seem to present the love which He bears us. On the other hand, the closer we examine its allusions and images, the more does it become apparent that His beloved Israel is in view.
And could it be otherwise? The truth and teaching for the present is founded upon a series of secrets, or "mysteries," which were not revealed to the ancient Hebrews. That the nations should ever have as near a place as is accorded to the bride in the Song of Songs was not only unknown but unknowable at the time when it was given to His people. Indeed, to one who duly considers the facts, it would be most heartless and cruel to give the beloved nation a song celebrating not only their own rejection, but His unfaithfulness to the vows by which He had bound Himself to her.
If we have the slightest sympathy with Solomon and his times, and the typical import of his reign, we will be unable to force ourselves to imagine him writing anything which celebrates the ascendancy of the alien nations over Israel. How could he write his best composition on a theme which would involve the shame of the nation which, under him, was a type of that future millennial day when a greater Son of David will celebrate His marriage to his people and thus fulfill his sweetest Song?
The figures used concerning the bride are such as are confined to Israel in the prophets and which are used by our Lord and His apostles, who were all ministers of the circumcision.
She keeps the vineyard (1:6) for the nation which was but an empty vine (Hosea 10:1). This vine was brought out of Egypt and displaced the nations in the land (Psa.80:8,9). Israel should have furnished the wine to cheer God and man (Judges 9:13). She should have been the joy of Yahweh and the benefactor of the nations. But she only brought forth fruit for herself (Hosea 10:1).
Our Lord, was the true, the genuine Vine. He will furnish the joy, both for God and man, which Israel failed to do. All Israel were branched in Him (John 15:1-11). But all who had no vital connection with him and bore no fruit, have been pruned out.
The accounts of Matthew, Mark, and Luke deal with the vineyard. In a parable they present the nation which ought to have kept the vineyard, and the treatment which they accorded His servants, the prophets, and His Son (Matt.21:33; Mark 12:1; Luke 20:9). What does He do with the vineyard? He will give it to a nation bringing forth its fruits (Matt.21:43).
This nation will be composed of those who, in John's gospel, are exhorted to bring forth much fruit.
In the light of these figures we can understand the Brides' solicitude for the vines (2:13; 6:11; 7:8,12) and why she is made keeper of the vineyard (1:6).
Another allusion, which is most suggestive when considered in the light of our Lord's words to His disciples, is not found in our versions. It so happens that the word prune and make music are from the same root in Hebrew. Zahmar is used of the pruning of a vineyard (Lev.25:3,4; Isa.5:6) and of the playing on musical instruments (Psa.98:5; 147:7). But in this case the usage of the verb bids us render it prune, rather than sing. The Septuagint renders it thus, and Symmachus, one of its editors, insists on this rendering.
If we combine all this evidence with the spiritual import of pruning, by which the dead members of Israel were lopped off from the blessings of the Bride, we will be glad to change.
The time of the singing of birds is come.
to the true reading:
The time for pruning [our vines] has come.
She is a shepherdess. She tended the tender sheep (1:8). Her Lover is a Shepherd, too (1:7). Peter tells us that He is the Chief Shepherd and exhorts those who belong to the Bride to shepherd the little flock (1 Peter 5:2-4). Indeed, Peter's pastoral ministry consisted in this very thing, for had not his Lord told him to shepherd His sheep and feed His lambs? (John 21:15-17).
As the good Shepherd, He lays down His life for the little flock. As the great Shepherd He will tend all nations with an iron club (Rev.12:5; 19:15). And with Him will be the Shepherdess of the Song of Songs.
She is a lily of the field (2:1). Perhaps no line in the entire poem so misrepresents the truth as the seeming boast of the bride, "I am the rose of Sharon." True, she calls herself "comely" (1:5), but even the English reader can see that this is misleading, since she is "black." How uncomely it is to hear her vaunt her own charms, as our translators force her to do! Let us hasten to assure ourselves that this unlovely spirit of self adulation finds no place in her breast. In reality she says:
Though black am I, yet meet [for Him]
[O ye] daughters of Jerusalem,
As the tents of the dark Kaydawr,
As the curtains of Solomon.
O look not at my swarthy hue
For the sun has stared me so.
And is not this the attitude of the bride of the Lambkin? All unworthy are they, yet meet for Him. In Him she may well boast, even of her own acceptance, for it magnifies His grace. Whatever beauty she has is all from Him. Like the lily of the field, the gorgeous anemone, the commonest of all the wild flowers of the land, or the white anemone, which grows in the lowly valleys, she is clothed with a garment direct from the hand of God.
Did not our Lord have this in His heart when He bade His disciples to consider the lilies of the field? Solomon himself, to whose Song our Lord refers, wore vestments of regal splendor, yet was not arrayed like one of these.
What a lovely simile of God's robe of righteousness! It is as beautiful as the floweretand as unassuming. Well, indeed, may the bride in modest bashfulness protest:
I am a lily of the field,
A lily pale of the lowly dale.
And right well may He respond:
As a lily [white] `twixt a thornbush [black],
E'en so's my friend the daughters among.
and she retorts in true lover fashion:
As an orange tree in a forest wild
E'en so's my Beloved among the sons.
In its shade I delighted to find a seat
And its fruit to my palate was [lusciously] sweet.
Again and again in our Lord's ministry, especially in John's account, we find Him seeking to engage them with His affections. As the bride expresses it:
He led me into His storehouse of wine
And o'er me unfurled His love's ensign.
Not only are the figures used in the Song of Songs used by our Lord and the apostles of the Circumcision, but the whole action of the Song corresponds with the history of the beloved nation.
First He compares her with Pharaoh's horsesan unmistakable reference to the bondage of Egypt.
I compare and compare thee, O my friend,
To Pharaoh's chariot steeds.
How becoming are thy harnessed cheeks,
Thy neck its collar beneath!
But He is not satisfied with her harness and promises her a new service to Yahweh, adorned with the silver of redemption:
A harness of gold will we make for thee
All set with silver studs.
From Egypt until His advent there was but little in Israel's history to engage His heart. But we will expect to find His meeting with the bride given a prominent place. And so it is. What could equal the following lines as a description of His ministry?
Then spake my Beloved and said to me,
"Arise, my friend, my perfect one,
And come away.
For see! the winter is over [now,]
The showers are past and gone,
The time for pruning [our vines] has come
And the turtle dove's cooing is heard in our land.
The fig tree seems to ripen its figs
And the vine with its blossom scents [the air].
Arise, my friend, my perfect one,
And come away."
Here we have the Kingdom presented in the fig tree, the pruning of the true Vine of all those who have no part with Him, and the spirit-taught disciples in the cooing of the doves. Peter, the representative of the disciples, is called by this very name, when, after voicing the spirit-taught truth that his Master was indeed the Messiah, the Son of the living God, our Lord calls him the son of Jonah, which is, interpreted, the "son of a dove."
Since the spirit descended upon our Lord at His baptism in the form of a dove, we need not be at a loss as to its significance. Perhaps nothing was more highly prized by our Lord than some manifestation of its presence in His disciples. How exquisitely is this expressed in the Song of Songs!
My dove, in the cleft of the riven rock,
In the covert ascent of the precipice,
A vision of thee I fain would see:
Cause me to hear thy cooing [clear],
For thy cooing is sweet and thy countenance meet."
In Him as the Rock, riven for her shelter, the gentle dove breathes forth her gratitude.
The period of His presence with them is thus rapturously described by the bride:
My Beloved is mine, and I am His;
He feeds [His flock] the lilies among,
'Till the evening breeze has cooled the day
And the shadow flees and hies away.
This is followed by the night of His absence. In a single word the bride breathes out the desire of her heart, even as we hear her implore Him in the Apocalypse: "The spirit and the bride say, `Come!'"
I compare and compare Thee, Beloved mine,
To a [swift] gazelle or a fawn of the stags
Upon the dividing mountain crags.
The persecution of the bride, as viewed by the Bridegroom, during the period of His absence, is inferred in the warning to Jerusalem's daughters."Behold, I come quickly!" may be read in the reference to the gazelle and the hind. It stirs His heart to see His bride suffer.
Jerusalem's daughters, I charge you strait,
By the [swift] gazelle or the [fleet] plain hind,
Lest you should stir or rouse my love
Till she be so inclined!
Enough has been given to show the subject of the Song of Songs. It celebrates Yahweh's love for the faithful among His ancient people Israel. They are His Bride and they are the subject of this Song.
The gulf between her and the daughters of Jerusalem, who find no beauty in Him, is best expressed in the words of the Song itself:
Jerusalem's daughters, I charge you strait,
If you should find this Beloved of mine,
Then tell Him that with love I pine.
What is thy Beloved more than any beloved,
Thou fairest of womankind?
What is thy Beloved more than any beloved
That thou dost charge us thus?
My beloved is white with a ruddy [glow],
Conspicuous among a myriad [men].
His head is purest gold refined.
His wavy locks are a raven black.
His eyes are as dove's by a water course,
Which are washed in milk and abide by its flood.
His cheeks as a fragrant garden bed
A bank of aromatic herbs.
His lips, like lilies, drip liquid myrrh.
His hands a gold ring with amber set;
His trunk of bright ivory with sapphires o'erlaid;
His limbs are marble columns white,
Securely set on a base of fine gold;
His presence is as Lebanon,
As excellent as the cedars [firm],
The roof of His mouth [is filled] with sweets,
And all of Him is desirable
This is my Beloved,
And this my Friend,
Ye daughters of Jerusalem!
And has the Song of Songs nothing to say of Babylon, the false bride? In the Revelation we find the sun-clothed woman, the true Israel, in the wilderness (Rev.12:1-6). Hosea tells us that there He will speak to her heart (Hosea 2:14-20). In the Song we see her coming up out of the wilderness, leaning on her Beloved (8:5). This is the time of Zion's travail and this is the time of Babylon's doom. Hence we read
Jealousy is as cruel as sheol
The flashes thereof are flashes of fire
A very flame of Yah.
Here we have an intimation of the false woman who is "burned with fire" (Rev.17:16). The title here used is significant. The exhortation, "praise ye Yah" (hallelujah) is always connected with judgment. And when the marriage of the Lambkin arrives, their praise is punctuated with "Alleluia!" Yahweh's jealousy has caused Him to deal with Babylon in the character of Yah. And they said "Alleluia! And her smoke rose up for the eons of the eons." All the "substance" (8:7) of Babylon, all her wealth and luxury cannot buy Yahweh's love.
If a man would give all the substance of his house for love
It would utterly be contemned.
But in that terrible judgment era the bride leans on her Beloved. His heart and hand are her only safety.
Set me as a seal upon thine heart,
As a seal upon thine arm:
For love is as strong as death;
* * * * * *
Many waters cannot quench love's [flame]
Nor can the floods [affection's fervor] drown.
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