I sought him whom my soul loveth; I sought him, but I found him not (1).
The third chapter of this exquisite book is divided into two parts; the first comprises verses 1-5, and the second verses 6-11. The opening section sets before us interrupted and renewed communion.
We are not told just what it was that had disturbed the fellowship of the lovers. It may have been the absence of the beloved, resulting in a temporary lethargic condition on the part of his espoused one. Possibly the entire section is to be treated as a dream. In fact, this seems the most likely explanation as the opening words of chapter 3 indicate. But dreams often reflect the disturbed state of the heart. “A dream cometh through the multitude of business” (Ecclesiastes 5:3). The opening verse depicts the restlessness of one who has lost the sense of the Lord’s presence. What saint has not known such experiences? David once exclaimed, “Lord, by thy favour thou hast made my mountain to stand strong: thou didst hide thy face, and I was troubled” (Psalm 30:7). This withdrawal of the light of God’s countenance is not necessarily in anger. Sometimes it is admonitory. It is love’s way of bringing the soul to a realization that something is being cherished or allowed that grieves the Holy Spirit of God. Or God may withdraw His face that faith may be tested, to see whether one can trust in the dark as well as in the light. Rutherford’s experience is depicted thus:
But flowers need night’s cool sweetness,
The moonlight and the dew;
So Christ from one who loved Him,
His presence oft withdrew.
When Christ announced His going away to His disciples, He said, “Ye believe in God, believe also in me” (John 14:1). That is to say, “As you have believed in God whom you have never seen, so when I am absent believe in Me. I will be just as real—and just as true although to sight unseen.” For though the soul may lose the sense of His presence, nevertheless He still remains faithful. He never forsakes His people though He seems to have withdrawn and He does not show Himself. This is indeed a test of faith and of true-hearted devotion. We say, “Absence makes the heart grow fonder,” but there is often greater truth in the old proverb, “Out of sight, out of mind.” When the Lord as a boy stayed in the temple, even Mary and Joseph went on “supposing him to have been in the company” (Luke 2:44); they did not realize the true state of affairs.
In this chapter of the Song the bride feels her loss. She seeks for him, but he is not there. There is no response to her cry. For her, rest is impossible with this awful sense of loneliness. She must seek until she finds; she cannot be contented without him. Would that this were always true of us! But sadly, how often we go on without the assurance of His presence, yet we are so insensitive that we scarcely realize our loss. The bride, however, demonstrates energy— determination—action! She must find him who is all in all to her. Love abhors a vacuum. Only the sense of his presence can fill and satisfy her heart.
In her dream—or possibly in reality—she leaves her mountain home and goes out in search of the object of her deep affections. She wends her way to the city and wanders about its streets and peers into every hidden place looking only for him! But at first her search is unrewarded. In fact it is not until she tells others of her love for him that he gladdens her vision. Note the terms used: “I sought him, but I found him not. I will seek him,… but I found him not” (1-2).
The watchmen, guarding the city at night, are surprised to see a lovely and apparently respectable woman going about at such an hour. But she turns eagerly to them before they can reprove her. She cries in the distress of her soul, “Saw ye him whom my soul loveth?” (3) The abrupt question conveyed little information indeed. To the prosaic guardians of the peace, it must have sounded almost incoherent. But to her it was all that was necessary. There was only one for whom her soul yearned. Surely they too would know his worth! But she gets no response from them.
She leaves the guards and has scarcely gone from their sight when she comes upon the object of her search. In an ecstasy of rapture she lays hold of him and clings to him as to one who might again vanish away. She brings him into her own home where she first saw the light of day.
The more the passage is pondered, the more evident it seems to be that all this happened in a dream. But it tells of the deep anguish of her soul. She missed him; she could not be happy without the sense of his presence. Her only joy was found in abiding in his love. She found him when she looked for him with all her heart.
Her attitude gratifies him. And so again we have the refrain of satisfied love. “I charge you, O ye daughters of Jerusalem, by the roes, and by the hinds of the field, that ye stir not up, nor awake my love, till [she] please” (5). As previously mentioned, the expression here is in the feminine in the original. Nothing gives our Lord more delight than to find a heart that joys in Him for what He is in Himself. Too often we think rather of His gifts, the gracious favors He bestows. It is right and proper that these should stir us to thanksgiving; but it is as we get to know Him and to joy in His love that we really worship in blissful communion.
The bride eyes not her garment,
But her dear Bridegroom’s face;
I will not gaze at glory,
But on my King of Grace—
Not at the crown He giveth,
But on His pierced hand:
The Lamb is all the glory
Of Immanuel’s land.
Anne R. Cousin
The latter part of the chapter is of an entirely different character. It illustrates the truth of union rather than of restored communion. It is a little gem, complete in itself. The espoused one has waited long for the return of the shepherd whose love she has prized above all else. His promise to return for her has been cherished and relied on, even though at times his continued absence has made her heart sick with yearning and her spirit droop with fear. But never has she really lost confidence in his pledged word. Eagerly she has awaited the fulfillment of his promise.
One day all the simple folk of the countryside are astir. They are filled with interest and wonder as they behold a grand procession wending its way along the highway up from the glorious city of God. Outriders and trumpeters on prancing chargers herald the approach of a royal equipage. “Who is this that cometh?” (6) This is the question raised by every onlooker. Whose procession is this? Who travels in such grandeur and splendor? One can imagine the scene. No one can blame the curious conjectures as the peasants of the hills gaze with wonder on the advancing cavalcade. In the Hebrew the question is really, “Who is she that cometh?” It is a bridal procession. But who is the honored maiden called to share the love of the King? Evidently at first they look in vain for a sight of her. Everything proclaims a nuptial parade, but no bride is really seen.
The bridegroom, however, is clearly in evidence. It is the son of David himself. In excited admiration the wondering people exclaim: “Behold his bed, which is Solomon’s” (7)! The royal conveyance is recognized. Sixty valiant soldiers guard their king as he journeys through the country. They are dressed in armor, each with his sword ready to defend his sovereign against any lurking traitorous foes. They move on in orderly array as the excitement among the shepherds and vinedressers grows ever more intense. Not often have their eyes been regaled by such a scene as this! Perhaps they will never see its like again!
How magnificent, how costly is that royal carriage! It is the King’s provision for the comfort of his bride. And that bride is half-hidden among the rest of the country folk, not daring to believe that such honor is for her. All eyes are on the King. It is his crowning day— his nuptial hour—the day of the gladness of his heart. He has come forth to seek and claim his spouse whom he won as the shepherd, and to whom he now reveals himself as the King.
There is no actual mention of the claiming of the bride and bringing her to the King. But it is clearly implied. He has come to fulfill his promise to make her his own. With deep and chastened joy she responds to the royal summons and takes her place at his side. So the procession sweeps on, leaving the bewildered onlookers gasping with startled amazement at the sudden change in the situation of her who had been through the years but one of themselves. It is a worthy theme for a Song of Songs! And most graphically it portrays the glorious reality which the bride of the Lamb will soon know when the Shepherd-King comes to claim His own.
He is coming as the Bridegroom,
Coming to unfold at last
The great secret of His purpose,
Mystery of ages past;
And the Bride, to her is granted,
In His beauty there to shine,
As in rapture she exclaimeth,
“I am His, and He is mine!”
Oh, what joy that marriage union,
Mystery of love divine;
Sweet to sing in all its fulness,
“I am His, and He is mine!”
How short then will seem the waiting time; how trifling the follies of earth that we gave up in order to be pleasing in His sight! How slight too will the sufferings of the present time appear, as compared with the glory then to be enjoyed.
Do you think we have drawn too much on imagination as we have sought to picture the real background of these lovely lyrics? Let me ask, Is it possible to mistake the picture when all Scripture tells the same story? What was the marriage of Adam and Eve intended to signify? What can be said of the servant seeking a bride for Isaac, and what of the love of Jacob as he served so untiringly for Rachel? What “great mystery” does Asenath, the Gentile wife of Joseph, illustrate? And what can be said of the love of Boaz for Ruth? Hosea who bought his bride in the slave market gives a darker side of the picture, yet all is in wonderful harmony. All alike tell the story that “Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it; That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing” (Ephesians 5:25-27). Then she will be “all fair” in His eyes and one with Him forever. It is written, “For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh. This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church” (Ephesians 5:31-32).
Surely all this should speak loudly to our hearts, we who through grace have been won for One we have never yet seen. Yet we read of Him, “Whom having not seen, ye love; in whom, though now ye see him not, yet believing, ye rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory” (1 Peter 1:8). What will it be when we behold Him coming in royal array to claim us as His very own, when we discern in the King of kings, the Good Shepherd who gave His life for the sheep, and who, before He left this world, gave the solemn promise, “If I go.. .1 will come again, and receive you unto myself (John 14:3). That glad nuptial hour draws on swiftly. Well may our hearts be stirred and our spiritual pulses quickened as we join the wondering cry, “Who is this that cometh?”
When the bride is caught away, what will the astonishment be on the part of those who had never understood that she was the loved one of the Lord Most High? When they realize that the church is gone and the heavenly procession has passed them by, what will be their thoughts in that day?
But we must pause here for the present. The next chapter gives us the glad recognition and the happy response.