Good evening. I invite you once again to turn in your bibles to the Song of Solomon. Song of Solomon chapter 4.
We’re studying divinely inspired poetry, love poetry. And tonight we get to the portion of the Song that some of you have perhaps most anticipated. We’re to perhaps some of the sweetest text in all of scripture.
And as the best of all poetry, the song of all songs, this poetry has layers to it. The best poetry, whether from Shakespeare or Donne or Dickenson, the best poetry has layers. It has a depth of meaning.
And the poetry in our text is exactly the same. The imagery used to describe love isn’t crass. It uses known images and language to describe deeper realities.
Specifically, the king in our text is describing the beauty of his beloved bride. He’s praising her for her beauty, but he does so in language that is laden with historical and theologically-rich language.
In fact, he speaks of his love in terms of a garden, harkening back to a time of perfection and communion, found in the Garden of Eden. He also uses language of the promised land and fruitfulness, pointing to a relationship of perfected communion between God and His people, as we will soon see.
Let’s read together Song of Solomon, chapter 4 through 5:1:
Behold, you are beautiful, my love,
behold, you are beautiful!
Your eyes are doves
behind your veil.
Your hair is like a flock of goats
leaping down the slopes of Gilead.
2 Your teeth are like a flock of shorn ewes
that have come up from the washing,
all of which bear twins,
and not one among them has lost its young.
3 Your lips are like a scarlet thread,
and your mouth is lovely.
Your cheeks are like halves of a pomegranate
behind your veil.
4 Your neck is like the tower of David,
built in rows of stone;[a]
on it hang a thousand shields,
all of them shields of warriors.
5 Your two breasts are like two fawns,
twins of a gazelle,
that graze among the lilies.
6 Until the day breathes
and the shadows flee,
I will go away to the mountain of myrrh
and the hill of frankincense.
7 You are altogether beautiful, my love;
there is no flaw in you.
8 Come with me from Lebanon, my bride;
come with me from Lebanon.
Depart[b] from the peak of Amana,
from the peak of Senir and Hermon,
from the dens of lions,
from the mountains of leopards.
9 You have captivated my heart, my sister, my bride;
you have captivated my heart with one glance of your eyes,
with one jewel of your necklace.
10 How beautiful is your love, my sister, my bride!
How much better is your love than wine,
and the fragrance of your oils than any spice!
11 Your lips drip nectar, my bride;
honey and milk are under your tongue;
the fragrance of your garments is like the fragrance of Lebanon.
12 A garden locked is my sister, my bride,
a spring locked, a fountain sealed.
13 Your shoots are an orchard of pomegranates
with all choicest fruits,
henna with nard,
14 nard and saffron, calamus and cinnamon,
with all trees of frankincense,
myrrh and aloes,
with all choice spices—
15 a garden fountain, a well of living water,
and flowing streams from Lebanon.
16 Awake, O north wind,
and come, O south wind!
Blow upon my garden,
let its spices flow.
Let my beloved come to his garden,
and eat its choicest fruits.
5 I came to my garden, my sister, my bride,
I gathered my myrrh with my spice,
I ate my honeycomb with my honey,
I drank my wine with my milk.
I thought long and hard how to preach this text, and I think the best way for us to approach it tonight is to look at it from three different angles. First, we’ll look at the text and learn lessons for our earthly marriage. Then God’s marriage to His people. And then look at the bride of Christ.
Our earthly marriages, God’s marriage to His people, and then Christ’s bride.
First, let’s look at the text and see what wisdom we can glean for our earthly marriages.
What is immediately clear from the text is that Solomon is writing for us love poetry praising his beloved bride. He’s describing her appearance and her love.
He praises her eyes, her hair, her teeth and lips, pointing toward her lovely smile. He’s captivated by her beauty.
I won’t go through and translate all the specific analogies for us; a good study bible or commentary could do that for you. Some of the metaphors that he uses may be a bit foreign to us, but the point can be seen easily enough.
He’s in love. In love with her beauty, in love with her fragrance, in love with her love for him. And he expresses his love in terms of beauty. His gaze is fixed on her, and no one else.
And by using garden language to describe their love, Solomon is I think pointing us back to another garden. The garden of Eden, where the man and woman were perfectly together and in love.
God perfectly fashioned Adam and Eve for one another, and both were naked and not ashamed in the garden, Genesis tells us. And God declared his creation of man and woman on that 6th day as VERY GOOD.
And remember: what does Adam do when Eve is given to him by the Lord? He erupts with poetry. He says, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called woman, because she was taken out of man.” Poetry of gratitude. Poetry of praise. Poetry of connection. And because of her origin from his very own side, when he nourishes her, he’s nourishing himself.
They are connected. They are communing. They are in love. And that love is focused on the other. Without distraction. Without disruption. Without discontentment. No other suitors to distract their gaze from their beloved.
That’s what marriage ought to be. Viewing our spouse with devoted eyes, eyes of gratitude. Eyes of praise. Eyes of delight.
Indeed, Proverbs instructs us toward this kind of delight, using some of the very same language from our passage here in Song of Solomon:
Let your fountain be blessed,
and rejoice in the wife of your youth,
19 a lovely deer, a graceful doe.
Let her breasts fill you at all times with delight;
be intoxicated always in her love.
Spouses ought to be filled with delight, with devotion, with love. And our poetry here points us toward that.
Take note of the care that Solomon takes to praise the bride. He’s a student of his beloved, noticing all of the lovely aspects of his lovely partner. We should pay attention here. He’s completely focused on her, and content in her. Like Adam, he doesn’t fixate on any of her weaknesses, on any of her imperfections.
He doesn’t disdain her and wish for something better. No, he’s joyfully contented.
Nor does he get into the comparison game, and lament how she isn’t like the other women he sees. He delights in her.
But also note that he isn’t merely contented, and isn’t merely joyful. He verbalized his affection. He’s studied his bride, noting her beauty and her graces, and then he praises what he sees.
He gives vent toward his feelings and affection. It’s not enough to merely have contented and grateful feelings for your spouse, but it in a healthy marriage, those feelings are verbalized.
How are you at that? Are you like Adam, praising God for the gift of your spouse? Are you like Solomon, delighting in the spouse of your youth, and praising her for all the ways that God has fashioned her to be a helpmate specifically made for you?
Too often we can succumb to the place of inattentiveness, where we no longer speak words of love to our spouse. We feel like we’ve done all that, and perhaps there is nothing left to say.
Or maybe we follow some worldly conception of manliness that feels like any show of affection and tenderness is weakness. Ushy-gushy gobble-dy goop. And so we don’t speak like this, to the detriment of our spouse, our marriage, and ourselves.
Or even worse, we slip away from joyful contentment with our spouse, into discontentment. We aren’t content with our garden of love, and start looking at other gardens. We compare the fruit of our vineyard to the fruitful vines in another garden.
Our discontentment can lead us to act in ways that Proverbs warns us about, and we slowly seek to drink water from another cistern, or to desire the fruit that is forbidden to us.
And if those feelings are left unchecked, we’ll act just like our father did. Like Adam who took fruit that was off limits to him, we can be tempted toward taking what isn’t ours. His provision for us in our garden of love is not good enough, we think, and Satan tempts us to snatch what isn’t ours.
When we aren’t careful to tend our garden well, to guard the purity of our vineyard, we open ourselves up to the exact same kind of temptation. And that temptation, when not protected against, will lead to a terrible place.
It led Adam and Eve to death, and being kicked out of the garden. And it has led all the sons of Adam to the same fate.
Each of us is born with the inclination away from purity and contentment. We’re ungrateful with what God has given to us, and we’re bent toward snatching what doesn’t belong to us.
We fill our minds and hearts with images of forbidden gardens. We fantasize about other vineyards and what it would be like to taste of that fruit over there. We each carry the scars in our bodies and in our souls of sinfully desiring that which wasn’t given to us.
And so we’re all guilty. We’re defiled. We unclean. We haven’t been pure in our thoughts. We haven’t been contented with God’s provision. And we deserve the fate Adam: kicked out of the garden and condemned to death.
That’s why we all need forgiveness. We need washing. We need to be made pure and clean again. And that’s exactly what the last Adam provides.
Christ is pictured in the Bible as the final Adam, who perfectly delights in his bride. He contentedly embraces her. He’s faithful only to her. He didn’t fall for the temptation of the Devil, who offered him the very best of the vineyards in this world.
Christ’s eyes were fixed on the good of His bride, and he delights in her. He finds joy in caring her for. And he praises her, not because she is so lovely in herself, but because he’s given her a perfect loveliness.
That’s the amazing part of the gospel. Christ’s bride, each of us, haven’t been faithful. We’re not lovely in ourselves, but we’ve been made perfectly lovely through Christ. Christ has given us His own perfection and purity, and that makes us lovely.
How do we get the kind of marriage described in this passage? How can we experience this kind of contented love? We get there by first coming to Christ. Christ offers us the forgiveness and washing that we need, and once we’ve tasted of His love, then we can turn around and love our earthly spouse well.
Christ shows us what love can and should be, and by the strength that we receive from him, that’s how we can have the ability to be the spouse that we are called to be.
Look at yourself, see who you are, a sinner in need of loveliness, and then look to Christ, the great bridegroom, who provides us with the loveliness that we so need. Trust in Jesus, and you can be forgiven of your failings and remade into the lovely spouse that we all ought to be.
Now, let’s go back to the text in Song of Solomon, and notice more specifically how the King describes their love. We’ll see God’s Marriage to His people. God’s marriage to His people.
We’ve noted in previous sermons that God speaks in many places in the Old Testament of Israel as his bride.
In Isaiah 54 God says “Your maker is your husband.”
In Jeremiah 2 and 3 God says “I remember you, The kindness of your youth, The love of your betrothal.” A similar image is used in Ezekiel 16.
Given this framework, of God betrothed to His people, I want us to look again at the poetry of Song of Solomon 4 and notice that God describes his love for His people in language that is clearly pointing toward the promised land.
Or to say it another way, the king’s love here is pictured in the same imagery that God uses to describe the promised garden, and the promised land for Israel.
Let me flesh that out. Keep your finger here, and turn with me for a moment Deuteronomy 28. Deuteronomy 28.
Israel is here on the verge of entering into the promised land. They’ve wandered the desert for 40 years, and God is about to taken them across the Jordan, into the land that he’s made for them.
And he makes promises to them, that if they obey, they will be given immense blessings, principally pictured in terms of fruitfulness. Blessing. Overflowing fertility.
Deuteronomy 28, starting in verse 1:
And if you faithfully obey the voice of the Lord your God, being careful to do all his commandments that I command you today, the Lord your God will set you high above all the nations of the earth. 2 And all these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you, if you obey the voice of the Lord your God.3 Blessed shall you be in the city, and blessed shall you be in the field. 4 Blessed shall be the fruit of your womb and the fruit of your ground and the fruit of your cattle, the increase of your herds and the young of your flock….
The point is clear: if they will obey God, their land will be fruitful. It’s all wrapped up in the language of a land flowing with milk and honey. What does that language mean? Flowing with milk and honey.
For a land to have lots of milk, it must be lush and green, so the cattle can feed and bear offspring. But not merely green. For it to be full of honey, it needs lots of beautiful flowers, so the bees can make honey. The land will be sweet, lush, bountiful, overflowing with fertility and blessing.
Now go back to Song of Solomon 4, and notice how the king describes his beloved.
“In verse 1 he compares her eyes to doves and her hair to a flock of goats. In verse 2 her teeth are likened to clean, shorn, fertile sheep. In verse 3 her lips are like a scarlet thread, and the only other place in the bible that that phrase is used is in the account of the deliverance of Rahab at the fall of Jericho (Joshua 2:18). Then also in verse 3 her cheeks…are likened to halves of a pomegranate, a fruit.
In these comparisons…then we have birds, goats, sheep (bearing twins), all of which I believe are allusions to the conquest of the land in Joshua, and then fruit. The king is describing the bride as a land that is bursting with living creatures and fruit.” She is like a land flowing with milk and honey.
In fact, He explicitly uses those words of milk and honey to describe his beloved in 4:11.
But we can keep going. In verse 4 her neck is pictured like the tower of David covered with the shields of warriors. The point here is not so much about her jewelry being like the metal and stones of the tower. He’s describing her like the land of promise, protected by the Davidic king and all his military might.
So when we read of the king’s praise of his beloved, we see him describing her in terms of the land of promise. He’s intentionally using language that is used to describe the kingdom of God in the Old Testament.
When he describes her hair or her teeth in terms of goats and lambs, he’s not merely describing the color or texture of them. He’s pointing to the fruitfulness, the blessing of it. Just like God’s promised land was supposed to flourish with fertility, with fruitful wombs of the flock, with fertile trees bearing much fruit, so too does his beloved overflow with blessing and life.
It seems to me that just like God’s bride Israel was to take possession of a land flowing with milk and Honey, now the king here is about to take possession of a fertile and blessed bride that God has prepared for him in advance.
Israel was called to faithfulness to God, and obedience to him, not merely as a contract, but as a marriage. But we all know how the story plays out, don’t we? Israel went across the Jordan under Joshua, and would not remain faithful. God’s beloved wouldn’t remain faithful to him.
Israel became the harlot, whoring after other gods, the bible describes it in many places. In fact, if you’ll hold your finger here, and turn to Isaiah 5 for a moment, we can see how God uses VERY similar language to describe Israel’s behavior.
In Song of Solomon 5:1 God uses a specific word for his beloved. That same word is used in only one other place outside of Song of Solomon. It’s used in Isaiah 5. I think what we have in Isaiah 5 is Isaiah’s commentary on the state of Israel, specifically using Song of Solomon language.
Look at the text of Isaiah 5, and see how closely the language matches Song of Solomon:
Let me sing for my beloved
my love song concerning his vineyard:
My beloved had a vineyard
on a very fertile hill.
2 He dug it and cleared it of stones,
and planted it with choice vines;
he built a watchtower in the midst of it,
and hewed out a wine vat in it;
[So, God has built a vineyard, and done all the work. He’s prepared a vineyard that should be fruitful and bear many grapes and wine. But what happens next?]
and he looked for it to yield grapes,
but it yielded wild grapes.
3 And now, O inhabitants of Jerusalem
and men of Judah,
judge between me and my vineyard.
4 What more was there to do for my vineyard,
that I have not done in it?
When I looked for it to yield grapes,
why did it yield wild grapes?
5 And now I will tell you
what I will do to my vineyard.
I will remove its hedge,
and it shall be devoured;[a]
I will break down its wall,
and it shall be trampled down.
6 I will make it a waste;
it shall not be pruned or hoed,
and briers and thorns shall grow up;
I will also command the clouds
that they rain no rain upon it.
7 For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts
is the house of Israel,
and the men of Judah
are his pleasant planting;
and he looked for justice,
but behold, bloodshed;[b]
but behold, an outcry![c]
Israel was called to be faithful to her husband. God planted her in the promised land and gave her everything she needed to be faithful, beautiful, and bountiful. But she wouldn’t do it. She was told of the blessings that would come with obedience, and the curses that would come with disobedience. And what has she done?
She’s chosen to bear wild grapes. She’s unfaithful to her husband. She was unwilling to be faithful to the covenant, which was a marriage covenant with Yahweh.
And so God pulls up the fences of his vineyard, and allows the garden to be pillaged. He brings in foreign invaders and allows the promised land to be overtaken. Israel is judged for her unfaithfulness, and carried off into exile. She’s removed from the promised land.
Israel was supposed to be like the bride described in Song of Solomon chapter 4, a sacred space flowing with milk and honey, only enjoyed by those authorized to do so. But she wouldn’t remain faithful.
She was supposed to be the bride, adorned for her husband, dwelling with him in a land like a fertile garden, covenantally-bound in faithfulness to him under his law. But she wouldn’t do so. She was an unfaithful bride.
She went after other Gods, rejected God’s law, and earned the covenantal curses for her violation of the marriage.
That’s what God’s bride has done. And that’s the context that makes Christ’s work so unbelievable. This imagery is swirling in the background when Paul picks up the imagery of a bride in Ephesians 5.
Marriage is a picture of Christ and His bride, and what has Christ done for His bride? He’s chosen the harlot, selected the unfaithful one, and washed her. He’s made her clean. Even though she rejected the marital harmony of faithfulness with God, he chose her.
Even though His bride has chosen barrenness in the wilderness instead of fruitfulness in the land of promise, Christ has gone out to get her, and brought her home, cleaned her up, and makes her fruitful and beautiful again.
He’s like Hosea, going out to buy back from harlotry his bride Gomer. And even though Gomer choses to run back to wickedness and unfaithfulness, God’s love for his bride will not let her go.
Do you see yourself in this story? Each of us is the unfaithful bride. We’ve soiled ourselves with sin and infidelity. We’ve chosen to run after things that promise us life, but end up in death.
And Christ came to buy us out of that life of spiritual harlotry and make us beautiful. But he didn’t buy us with silver or gold. The price of our redemption was much more precious. He bought us with His own blood.
He paid the price of our sin and death, and carried them with him on the tree of Calvary. And he’s given us new garments, garments of righteousness and beauty. He’s made us lovely, by giving us his own loveliness.
He’s brought us back into his garden, and he will protect us. Like the tower of David covered with shields, he protects his bride with impenetrable defenses. He won’t let his bride go back to that filth. He won’t let us run after other lovers.
That’s what is provided to the bride of Christ: washing, forgiveness, beauty, and protection.
Cherish the love that your bridegroom has provided. Remember his sacrifice and his love for you. And remember that when you feel unlovely, when you feel like you’ve soiled yourself in sin again, remember how he views his bride:
“You’re altogether beautiful, my love, behold you are beautiful!” That’s how God views his bride in Christ. Lovely and beautiful, because he has made her so.
But let’s keep going, and move onto the third point, which takes the imagery of this text and applies it to the church, the bride of Christ. The church as the bride of Christ.
If we read this text, which has the king describing the various body parts of his beloved, and we think through how Paul describes the bride of Christ as a body in 1 Corinthians, then we can see further applications from our text.
Paul says that the church, which is Christ’s bride, has many members, many parts, and each of those parts is a gift of the Holy Spirit, and that allows us to further derive encouragement from this text.
In fact, I think this section of text is bookended with imagery that the bible uses to describe the work of the Holy Spirit.
In verse 1 of chapter 4 we see the imagery of a dove used. The dove, if you remember, was sent out of the ark in Genesis, sent out to scope out a new creation after the flood. And when Jesus is baptized in the New Testament, the Spirit is sent down in the form of a dove.
And further down in the text, in verse 15, how does the king describe his beloved: “a garden fountain, a well of living water.” A spring, or fountain, of living water. Where else have we hear that language in scripture.
Jesus picks up the same language in John 7, and applies it to the ministry of the Holy Spirit, when he said:
““If anyone is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, ‘From his innermost being will flow rivers of living water.’” But this He spoke of the Spirit, whom those who believed in Him were to receive”
So let’s apply this to Song of Solomon. I think God is teaching us that the lovely bride in this poetry is made lovely because she’s been given the work of the Holy Spirit, which is exactly what we learn in the New Testament.
God’s spirit, who takes the form of the dove, opens the eyes from verse 1, the eyes of believers, so that we can view clearly the beauty of our king.
And the king takes for himself a bride and makes her lovely, by making her reborn, born again, born of the Spirit, and gives to her His very own spirit, which is like a fountain of living water.
The garden of love goes from being barren and overtaken by thorns and thistles, and turned into a new Eden, a promised land, a land flowing with milk and honey. We’re united to our divine king by the ministry of the spirit, and now we can bear fruit.
But we don’t bear grapes and pomegranates. We bear the fruit of the Holy Spirit: Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, and self-control.
And what’s more, we learn in 1 Corinthians that the Spirit gives each of us spiritual gifts. Christ’s bride is made up of many members, each with special gifts and graces. Some act like eyes, some hands, some feet.
When we look through that lens, of the body of Christ with many members, what does Song of Solomon 4 look like then?
I won’t linger here, but many of the Church fathers saw the bride of Christ in our text. Just like the bride has breasts from which the young may be nourished, so too does the spirit gift the church with some members who are especially gifted in nourishing the young and immature.
I encourage you to re-read this passage later, and think through how Christ’s bride has many gifted people who fulfill the imagery of this text, allowing for the bride to be fruitful.
Christ has re-made his bride through the work of the Holy Spirit. She’s a locked garden, verse 12 says, secure and safe. Reserved for one and one alone.
She bears many fruits, the choicest of fruits, verse 13 says, and is adorned with the sweetest of fragrances. She’s a garden fountain, overflowing with living water.
Do you view the bride of Christ that way? Too often we look at the bride of Christ, and we see only the problems, only the weaknesses. We see the church, and we see a face that is marred by sin and weakness. Martin Luther said that the face of the church is the face of a sinner, and in this age, that will remain.
Its members are sinners. Its ministers are sinners. We all fail to be what we should be.
But take heart. Christ doesn’t see his bride that way. He says of his bride: “you are altogether beautiful, my love, behold you are beautiful!”
She’s beautiful because of what she’s been made to be. Robed in Christ’s righteousness. And if Christ has died for this bride, let us be careful not to slander the wife of the king. Let us not disdain the weaknesses.
Let us aim to view the church as Christ views his bride. Not yet perfect, but lovely. And one day, she will be perfectly lovely, when the marriage day comes, and the covenant is consummated.
That’s where the text lands. The bride says, “Let my beloved come to his garden,
and eat its choicest fruits.”
The bride implores the king to come, to enter into the garden. And note, she describes the garden as “HIS” garden. He has made her, and he has made her for himself.
And so the king in this song enters in:
5 I came to my garden, my sister, my bride,
I gathered my myrrh with my spice,
I ate my honeycomb with my honey,
I drank my wine with my milk.
The romantic imagery is clear enough for us to see. The union is pictured. The promised land is attained. The fruitfulness is tasted, overflowing with milk and honey.
That’s what awaits the bride of Christ. Final consummation, on the great wedding day to come. In fact, that final day is described in Revelation 22 using much of the same imagery found in our text.
The bride and the king are reunited. Flowing from the throne is said to be not merely a stream of water, but a river of living water.
There’s fruitfulness, pictured as the tree of life, bearing twelve kinds of fruit.
And we will see our king, face to face. As the old Hymn from Samuel Rutherford put it, on that day:
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 piercéd hands;
the Lamb is all the glory
of Emmanuel’s land.
That’s the consummation we all await.
 Jim Hamilton, “The Song of Songs: A biblical-theological, allegorical, christological interpretation” (Christian Focus, Fearn: 2015), 83. Much of the biblical-theological connections I make are built off of Hamilton’s very helpful analysis of the text.
 Hamilton, 85.
 The Sands of Time are Sinking.