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If we examine the Psalms, or even the prophets, with a view to ascertain the character or circumstances of the residue of Israel in the latter days, we shall find, after their undergoing some deceptions through professed friendship, a distressed and oppressed people. The fowls summer upon them, and the beasts of the earth winter upon them; Isa. 18:6. That is the state of the nation when the Assyrian shall be pressing them from without, and the beast oppressing them within. At the centre of their nationality, and where their hearts have sought rest, will be trouble such as never was since there was a nation, and never will be again: the time when God is making short work upon the earth.
Though this will be in the nation at large, the effect on the wicked and on the saints will be very different. The nation at large will have joined with the beast and acquiesced in idolatry. Another, come in his own name, they will have received. The unclean spirit of idolatry, with seven others worse, will have entered into them. They have given up their God, rejected their Messiah, received the Antichrist, and what have they when oppression comes? “They shall fret themselves, and curse their king and their God, and look upward. And they shall look unto the earth and behold trouble and darkness, dimness of anguish, and they shall be driven to darkness.”
But we have to do more particularly with the remnant attached to Israel, to Israel’s hopes, and Israel’s relationship with Jehovah, but awakened to the sense of the evil that is going on, and suffering on all hands from it where they have not fled. The Spirit and word of God are working in their hearts. They remember the promise to the people as God’s people; they seek faithfulness to Jehovah, and are only for that reason oppressed and driven out, hated by unfaithful Israel and cruelly oppressed by her oppressors, but brought to the sense of the nation’s and therein their own sins, grieved over its ruin, and seeing approaching judgments and God’s hand already on them in sore chastisement. They would hope yet in Jehovah and expect Messiah, though smitten into the place of dragons and finding it hard to count on One against whom they have sinned, and whose hand is out against them and to reckon on promises when all seems dark. Still the promises are there, and God will certainly set His King on His holy hill of Zion. From Deuteronomy 32 onward, the prophets had predicted this state of things; so that, dark and terrible as it is, and humanly speaking, excluding hope, there was that, even in the very threats, which sustained hope.
This state of things the Psalms meet, and, as we have often seen in commenting on them, furnish a divine expression for the hopes and sorrows of these exercised hearts. It is only the great principles of these which I would now advert to, to bring out more distinctly the different character of the Song of Solomon, and what this will furnish to the hearts and faith of the remnant. There are two great principles characteristic of their state in the midst of all their sorrows: firstly, integrity; secondly, trust in Jehovah. In these the Spirit of Christ leads them, Himself perfect in both and by His grace enabling them, in the expressions furnished them in these Psalms, to express their confidence in spite of all their failure, which rendered it more difficult than even the deep waters they were passing through. This very integrity, and the operation of the Spirit of Christ in them, leads them, however necessarily, to the confession of sin and long failure even to blood-guiltiness. It is remarkable to see in this way how declaration of integrity, and confession of sins, are found together; so with Job, so even with Peter. Hence also, in looking to God, mercy always comes before righteousness in their thoughts. He had shut them up in unbelief that they might be objects of mercy. No doubt God was righteous in fulfilling His promises; but they must get into the true and right place to have them accomplished, the place where the interpreter, one among a thousand, could put them. And this interpreter is just the Spirit of Christ in the Psalms. He shews them the place of uprightness in confessing their sin; then they can look for mercy, and so righteousness. All these are the moral dealings of Jehovah, most instructive, and most interesting. The Psalms, and the Prophets too, add, that it will be through the intervention of Messiah, and the Prophets at any rate tell us plainly it will be under the new covenant.
But the Song of Solomon seems to me to shew us something further—the drawing out, where the soul is taught of God (an effect realised in some hidden ones, while revealed and open for all), of the soul of the waiting few, into affections here figuratively presented, and the revelation of Messiah’s devoted love for the people; for Jerusalem, if you please, as the centre of it, over which He wept, when in its folly it rejected Him, so that the humble and instructed heart should have the consciousness of it, and confide in it, though not yet revealed.
It begins with a recognition of the blessedness of Messiah’s love. His name, from the graces in Him, is as ointment poured forth, and He is loved by the uncorrupted ones—those, I suppose, who have guarded themselves from idolatry and corruption, the same class exactly as in Revelation 14, these evidently therefore also while waiting for Christ have suffered in a certain sense like Him. Next the bride (Jerusalem) looks to be drawn by Messiah, but says “we,” because she really represents all the faithful. The King now appears, King Messiah. He loves Jerusalem intimately. This is valued. It is the upright ones who love Him. We have seen this character of the remnant. Verses 5,6, tell the tale of Jerusalem, of Jacob’s long persecution and desolation. The sun has looked upon her, the heat of trial. Her place was to be a keeper of nations for fruit; she had not kept her own vineyard. Next, in verse 7, she would not be anywhere but with Messiah’s flocks, not be like a dissolute wanderer with others than He. The paths marked out by those, whom God owned as guided and guides, the testimony among God’s people, were to lead her. This brings her to Messiah’s own testimony of His delight in her; and her consciousness that thus grace is drawn forth in her (v. 12). What an image of this, suited to the time, was Mary’s act, which Judas blamed! This is a kind of introductory statement, which gives us the aspects in which they stand, and their position, so as to recognise the bride, her place, and the bridegroom.
Now the action and effect of it begins. Chapter 2. The bride takes her place, and the bridegroom owns only her. She is the lily, the rest thorns (v. 2). It is under Christ she finds herself, she owns Him as the true blessed fruit-bearer. And His shadow protects her, and she delights in it, and His fruit is her joy. Jerusalem and Israel are restored under Messiah, delight in Him, are sheltered under Him.
Now we find how much more we have than in the Psalms, the heart’s devoted confidence, that His love is the spring of delight, her joy, and overpowering her with blessing. He, too, rests in His love, and in her heart she weighs and estimates the value of His love; all her delight is in His resting in His love (see Zephaniah 3:17): ‘he please’ (v. 7) I doubt not is right, though I had elsewhere supposed it otherwise. The remnant are entering by faith into the joy Messiah will have in His bridegroom-love to them, and express their own rest of heart in this.
Remark here what follows, for it is a key to the bearing of this: “The voice of my beloved, behold he cometh.” This connection is not accidental, we have the form of verse 7, also in chapters 3:5, and 8:4, and each time it is followed by His coming, but with progress. Here Messiah comes revealing Himself. After chapter 3:8, He comes crowned as King Messiah, the Son of David, Prince of peace, crowned in the day of His espousals, as His mother’s (Israel’s) heart crowns Him. After chapter 8:3, 4, the bride is coming, back out of the wilderness with Him, leaning on her beloved.
Here we return to the first principle of blessing stated in chapter 2:3: she was raised up under the apple-tree; there she was brought forth. It was not under Moses, not under the old covenant, that Israel or Jerusalem could truly find their blessing, but under Christ; still less was it under Egypt: Christ was the source, the tree of blessing and life to her. Hence—to complete this part of the connection of thought— instead of vineyards trusted to her, and her not keeping her own, Christ, as royal Prince of peace, has a vineyard at Baal-hamon, a difficult word. At any rate, it is now Solomon, Messiah Himself, who has the vineyard. I am disposed to think it refers to Christ’s universal dominion over the earth, the peoples, a vineyard which will now bear its fruit. But there was a special vineyard now, once not kept, which was now before the spouse—Israel, who through grace would now diligently keep her vineyard; her vineyard was before her. The song closes the remark with the desire that the Bridegroom would make haste. The companions hearkened to His voice for her. It was the desire of the upright ones, but in the character of spouse she prays to hear it.
All this points out, I think, two things. One is the way faith, in those whose hearts have been opened, enters into the perfect delight of Christ’s love in the blessing of Israel, specially of Jerusalem. The anticipative sense of this is here furnished to draw out and encourage this faith. It is not the prophetic statement of moral principles, however deeply important in connection with Jehovah’s dealings with Israel they may be, but the sense of bridegroom-love which Messiah has for His people, for the people and city He has chosen; not as stongs of course, but as the seat of election. (Compare Ps. 132:13, 14 —indeed the whole Psalm.)
Next, it is only the anticipation of faith: for every time that she realises it, and looks to the Bridegroom’s resting undisturbed in His love, immediately follows the thought of His coming. She did not actually possess Him. This, as we have seen, is progressive. In the end of chapter 2 there is the consciousness that the time was come; the Lord’s grace was causing blessing to spring forth and bud. (Compare Psalm 102.)
The various exercises of heart connected with it I do not notice in detail—true affection, yet failure. I only remark that the Bridegroom speaks to her, the bride of Him: this is just. Christ can give His approval to those He loves. The saint, Jew or heavenly, enjoys His love, can describe His excellencies with delight, but does not take upon him to tell them to Him. There is progress also in the consciousness of the character of relationship. As has been noticed elsewhere, first “My beloved is mine, and I am his “(chap. 2:16); this is the first consciousness of relationship. “We have found him.” He owns, indeed, His beloved (were it not so, there would be no comfort); and He enjoys with delight her beauty; but the first thought is, “He is mine.” It is not till after many exercises, failure on her part, and assurance how precious she was to Him, that she says with calmer spirit, “I am my Beloved’s,” I belong to Him, though the other part remains true, with deeper feeling too, for His worth and title is more felt and better known, and in it all He is ours, whatever His title over us, and still His joy is in the beauty and graces of His people.
But, after this, we have not exercises, but the expression of the Bridegroom’s thoughts; His dove, His undefiled, is but one: there may be nations, and many more or less connected with Him, but His Beloved is one; Israel only on earth has this place. But, when He so looks at it, soon He is carried on their hearts. He goes down to see the fruits of the valley, whether His vineyard bore its fruits, at least whether it flourished, and that which represented true faithfulness, as He delighted in it (as the pomegranates on Aaron’s robe), was budding forth—Israel shewing in its humiUation the breaking forth of the signs of living fruit. Or ever He was aware, His soul set Him on the chariots of His willing people; for such is the force of Aminadab, as in Psalm no:3, and Psalm 47:9, translated princes (the Nadibim) of the people. Hence Israel becomes immediately as two armies, or as Mahanaim the hosts of God of old.8 When all this has taken place, and the Bride-goom has told her how He estimates her beauty, she says again in the due sense how all ought to be His, and what a blessing it was to be so in one’s own right place, “I am my Beloved’s.” He is that, her Beloved, but she is His, then all her heart could delight in “His desire is towards me.”
Now this was the thought into which Israel had to grow up. Exercises of Israel, right ones, we have in the Psalms; but this thought of Messiah’s delight in her is scarcely found there; but they ought to feel it. It opens out a new and most interesting element of their condition, of what grace furnishes them with, that all the feelings that grace can give may be then divinely given to them, and they drawn on into this blessed confidence, and knowledge of Messiah.
It seems to me that, not merely particular images or expressions, but that the whole structure of this, I admit, mysterious and remarkable poem points to Israel, to the remnant of Jerusalem, as the centre of all this in the latter day and (as I have said) gives a further apprehension of what is provided and in store, for the remnant, than any other portion of scripture does; though we have seen it connect itself with many expressions in the Psalms, which confirm this interpretation of it. It has seemed to me that the passages I have referred to, with their combination, give a distinctive clue to the intention of the whole book.
8 See Genesis 32:2.