I am Dark, but Lovely

Good Morning. Please turn with me in your bibles to Song of Solomon. Song of Solomon. It’s just past halfway through your bible. In fact, if you open the bible to the middle, you’ll likely hit the Psalms. And after Psalms is Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon.

Last Sunday night I began a new sermon series through this book, and I laid a lot of groundwork. I won’t rehash all that, but by way of review I thought it might be good just to say a few introductory points. If you want a fuller introduction then I’d encourage you to listen to last week’s sermon at another time.

But as I noted last week, the Song of Solomon is lyrical poetry. It is a song. IN fact, as verse 1 of chapter 1 says, it is the Song of songs. It is the best of songs, just like Christ is the king of kings and the Lord of Lords, and like the Holy of Holies was the holiest of all places. This is the Song of Songs, the best of the best.

And it is not merely poetry, it is romantic poetry. It was written by Solomon, and it is about the love between the beloved woman, the betrothed bride to be, and the kingly suitor.

But, although it is certainly romantic poetry, we’re not to read it as mere poetry. Israel is pictured in many places in the Old Testament of being the bride of Yahweh. The Lord chose Israel as his bride.

Indeed, in the New Testament Paul picks up this same idea and says that all marriage points us to this spiritual reality: that Christ is the bridegroom and the church is his bride. The Lord has wed us to himself, and in that way, he stands as the model of what all faithful husbands are to be, and the exemplar of what true love should look like.

So while this book certainly should teach us what marriage and love should look like, it should teach us even more than that. Indeed, this book is profitable, even for those who are not yet married, or are no longer married, because it shows us what true love ought to be, and in that love we see more clearly our faithful bridegroom, the true king of kings, Jesus Christ.

Let’s begin by reading from chapter 1. I covered the first four verses last time, but I’ll go ahead and read from the beginning for context, and stop after verse 10.

The Song of Songs, which is Solomon’s.

Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth!
For your love is better than wine;
    your anointing oils are fragrant;
your name is oil poured out;
therefore virgins love you.
Draw me after you; let us run.
The king has brought me into his chambers.


We will exult and rejoice in you;
we will extol your love more than wine;
rightly do they love you.


I am very dark, but lovely,
O daughters of Jerusalem,
like the tents of Kedar,
like the curtains of Solomon.
Do not gaze at me because I am dark,
because the sun has looked upon me.
My mother’s sons were angry with me;
they made me keeper of the vineyards,
but my own vineyard I have not kept!
Tell me, you whom my soul loves,
where you pasture your flock,
where you make it lie down at noon;
for why should I be like one who veils herself
beside the flocks of your companions?


If you do not know,
O most beautiful among women,
follow in the tracks of the flock,
and pasture your young goats
beside the shepherds’ tents.

I compare you, my love,
to a mare among Pharaoh’s chariots.
10 Your cheeks are lovely with ornaments,
your neck with strings of jewels.

Our section of text this morning comes right after verse 4, which contains a praise from the female companions of the bride to be. These women, which may have been background singers when these songs were originally sung, might even point us toward the heavenly court of onlookers, the angelic beings who delight in the love between Christ and his bride, but here we know for sure that they serve to confirm the woman’s opinion of her beloved.

Poetically, they are validating the woman’s appraisal of her king. Yes, indeed, the king’s love really is better than wine. He is lovely, and his love is refreshing to the heart and to the soul.

Thus far in this sweet poem there are no problems between the two lovers, no enmity, no rift, no strife, other than the fact that they aren’t yet married. She’s anticipating. She’s ready. She’s excited, even rejoicing.

But then in verse 5, and things change. In verse 5 we get our first taste of something not being right. She has concerns. And her concerns center upon two different things: her appearance and her reputation. Her appearance and her reputation.

Look at verse 5. What does she say about herself:

I am very dark,

And again in verse 6:

Do not gaze at me because I am dark,
because the sun has looked upon me.

Unlike today where having tanned skin is sometimes prized by women, back in Solomon’s day it was the opposite. To have dark skin meant that you were a laborer. You had to work outside for a living. If we were in India, we might say that having tan skin was an indicator that you were in a lower caste.

You were of inferior blood, you were beneath those who were able to retain an unblemished pale complexion. And we can read from her words how her concerns about her appearance makes her feel: she feels ashamed. She says “don’t look at me.”

I’m black like the tents of Kedar, which were tents made of dark animal skin. She says I’m as black as those black goat skins that hang in the sun all day. I’m dark like the curtains of Solomon in the temple, woven tightly, letting no light through. Don’t look at me, because the sun has looked upon me. Don’t gaze at me, because I have been a victim of the Sun’s gaze.

I wonder if any of you today have felt this kind of shame. Shame because of how you looked. It’s not difficult to imagine how she feels. She’s betrothed to a king, yet she’s not of royal lineage. She’s in love with a beautiful lover, but feels unlovely herself.

If I might use a little artistic license here, following the language of verse 4: the woman is ready to run with the king off to the king’s chambers, but she wants to make sure the lights are off and the curtains are drawn. She wants to be with her beloved, but she feels ashamed in his presence, because she feels unlovely. I wonder if you can relate to such a feeling?

But let’s keep reading. How did she come to this condition and this feeling?

My mother’s sons were angry with me;
they made me keeper of the vineyards,

Notice, she doesn’t say her brothers were angry with her. It was her mother’s sons. She distances herself from them. Those over there, those sons of my mother, they made me this way. They were angry at me, and they made me work outside.

God’s people have often been victims of mistreatment, even by those close to them. Cain and Abel. Jacob and Esau. Joseph and his brothers.

Indeed, at one level the church has always felt this mistreatment. We are born brothers and sisters with those outside the church. We all have Eve as our mother by birth. And yet those outside the church despise the church. We share the same earthly parents, but they hate us. They shame the church. They mock the church and its positions.

They can’t see the glory of Christ, and they hate the light, the gospel of John says, because by the light their dark deeds are exposed, and so they love the darkness and hate the light. And so they malign the church, neglect it, marginalize it, and sometimes, try to snuff it out.

Get out into the vineyard and get to work, you worthless slave.

Perhaps you’ve felt that way. Been bullied around. Been mistreated and devalued. Been maligned and marginalized.

But notice too, she doesn’t place all the blame here on the sons of her mother. She also admits her own flaws.

My mother’s sons were angry with me;
they made me keeper of the vineyards,
but my own vineyard I have not kept!

She is aware of her own misdeeds. She hasn’t kept her own vineyard.

The imagery of vineyard is used throughout this book, and was often used as a euphemism in their day for sexuality, especially in women. And so she’s saying that her own sins were clear to her, and she can’t blame her brothers for her own transgressions. She’s guilty of her own sin. She could say with the Psalmist, “My sins are ever before me.”

And so she’s ashamed. She feels unlovely. She bears the scars of her own sin in her body, and she feels inferior, like she can’t measure up. Her appearance makes her feel worthy of shame.

But it’s not only her appearance that makes her feel this way. She’s also concerned with her reputation. Her reputation. What will people think of me? Look at verse 7:

Tell me, you whom my soul loves,
where you pasture your flock,
where you make it lie down at noon;
for why should I be like one who veils herself
beside the flocks of your companions?

She wants to be with her shepherd king, she wants to be with her beloved. But she also has concerns about her appearance in the eyes of others.

“Why should I be like one who veils herself?” she asks, which is loaded language. If you will remember back to the story of Judah and Tamar in Genesis 38, Tamar veiled herself. She intentionally dressed up like a roadside harlot, and the veil was a primary piece of that outfit.

The woman here is concerned. She wants to find her shepherd king, but the kind of women that you might find mingling among shepherds on the roads in the fields, these were not women of good repute.

So rather than her just wandering around and looking like a harlot, she wants to know where he is and how to find him. She wants the king to protect her reputation. She wants to be honored by the king, and not left out to dry, so to speak. She doesn’t want to be vulnerable to accusation.

At root, She really wants to be safe, and to have a good name, to be honored and cherished.

I wonder if that feeling resonates with you. I have no doubt that every person in here would love to have a spouse that protects you, that makes you feel safe, that removes the chance of accusation, that gives you a name that is invulnerable.

That’s what she’s after. She feels ashamed about her appearance, unworthy of even being seen, and afraid of what others might think about her.

Now, before I get to the king’s response in the following verses, I’d like to make a couple quick observations about their conversation. First about the woman, and then we’ll get to the man’s response.

Let’s take note of the communication between these two parties, and see if we can apply some principles from that to our own lives.

To the women here, especially the women, although not exclusively, note how the bride in our text is speaking to her lover. She is speaking. She isn’t bottling up how she is feeling. She isn’t ignoring the king. She doesn’t have unrealistic expectations that the man would just magically be able to read her mind. That happens sometimes in marriage.

Women are very intuitive and tend to be more empathetic. They’re better at reading cues in body language and tone, and can often intuit from those things the emotional state of people around them.

And sometimes these kinds of women can expect their husbands to be able to do the same thing. And they can get frustrated when their husband can’t read their mind. The husband either can’t or doesn’t intuit from non-verbal cues what’s going on in her heart, and therefore that husband is guilty in her mind. In modern words, He’s not picking up what she’s putting down, and so he’s the problem.

Ladies, most men are pretty thick, and you would do your husband a service, and likewise be serving yourself, if you would be willing to speak, like the woman does in this text.

And not just speak about anything. Notice, the woman in the text speaks vulnerably. She speaks sincerely about her fears. She talks about her concerns. She’s open about what makes her feel the way that she feels, and asks for the husband to help her.

Men long to be helpers and fixers, and so to invite them into your heart and ask them to be a part of the solution can be a blessing. Many marriages are weak and suffer because one party or the other is unwilling to speak about real issues. They clam up, and then blame the other person for things not getting better. Don’t fall into that trap.

I won’t linger here, but the same principles of speaking and speaking with vulnerability are not unrelated to church membership either. We are covenanted together as believers in the local church, and there should be a willingness for each of us to speak about the things that we’re fearful of, things that we need help with, things that make us feel ashamed.

It does nobody any good for the entire church to have a veneer of happiness painted over souls that are actually cowering in fear and shame.

For homework, I challenge you to take these principles about communication and see how they might apply to your relationships outside of your marriage too.

Now, Men, our turn. I’m generalizing here, but statistically men tend to be much poorer at communication than women. I want us men to be taught about communication here too. We noted that the woman was speaking in this text, and speaking about things that made her feel vulnerable.

But I want us to note something significant, prior to the woman even speaking. She was only willing to speak in such a way because the king had already created an environment where she felt loved. That’s important: She was only willing to speak in such a way because the king had already created an environment where she felt loved.

She has already praised the love of the king in verse 4. Yes, you might want your woman to open up and talk to you, but she’s not going to want to do that if she doesn’t feel loved and safe.

We should strive to create an atmosphere in the relationship where she would even feel safe enough to admit her weaknesses, to admit that she feels ashamed or fearful. And she’ll never be willing to do that, if we have created a temperature of hostility in the home.

The same principle applies to every relationship, in fact. You’ll never experience depth of relationship and true communion with your children, with your friends, with your fellow church members, if you have not first tried to make the relationship feel loving and safe.

For example, some people use humor poorly, like shame-based humor. They think it is funny to pick at others, or to make little jabs in order to get cheap laughs. That kind of person can struggle to experience deep and meaningful fellowship, because their humor makes the people around them feel unloved or threatened.

Some marriages are characterized by coldness. The spouse feels aloof, uninvolved, rarely interested. That kind of relationship will very rarely result in good communication. An atmosphere of love and safety needs to be protected, needs to be cultivated, if we’re going to experience meaningful communication in our relationships.

Now, let’s turn back to the text and make a couple observations about the king’s response to the woman. The king’s response, beginning in verse 8:

The first thing we might observe, and forgive me for stating the obvious, is that the king was listening. The king was listening to his beloved.

Good communication doesn’t begin when you open your mouth. It begins first with your ears and your eyes. The king listened to the concerns of his woman, and we can know that he was listening because he addressed both of her concerns.

Regarding her first concern, her appearance, what does he say:

If you do not know,
O most beautiful among women,

He says you’re the most beautiful woman in the world. Forget all this stuff about being too dark. I love you; and my eyes are only fixed on you. Don’t feel ashamed about the way that you look. I love the way that you look.

Indeed, verse 9:

I compare you, my love,
to a mare among Pharaoh’s chariots.

Now, men, if you wife comes up and asks you how she looks in this dress, I probably wouldn’t lead with, “you look like a horse.”

No, Pharaoh’s horses at the time were world-renowned for being the best and most beautiful. He’s saying that he believes her to be of the highest quality. Her loveliness is unmatched, and her beauty is without peer.

But he doesn’t only address her concerns about her appearance. She also was concerned about her standing in the community. She wanted to see him, and to do it in a way that wouldn’t make her appear less than reputable.

He tells her where to go in verse 8:

If you do not know,
O most beautiful among women,
follow in the tracks of the flock,
and pasture your young goats
beside the shepherds’ tents.

He tells her where to find him. He’s gives her direction. And notice the order too: he listens, he reassures her, and then he gives her direction.

Don’t jump right to fixing the problem without having first made sure you’ve heard all her concerns. Reassure her, then give her the information she needs.

He’s a model for us in how we all ought to be in communication. He’s laid the groundwork by creating an environment that fosters genuine and vulnerable communication. He’s listened to her concerns, and he’s reassured her, and then he addresses her concerns.

But like I said earlier, this poetry isn’t merely a manual on how to do marriage well. It describes for us, in romantic language, what true love really looks like. And I think we would be fools if we didn’t see this passage pointing us to the great bridegroom himself.

For example, the bride begins this text by lamenting her appearance. She feels dark and unlovely. She feels ashamed. She knows that this isn’t the whole truth, in fact she evens says that she’s lovely in verse 5, and yet she can’t get past her appearance. And she asks her beloved not to even look at her.

How many of us have felt that kind of shame? It was the first thing that Adam and Eve felt when they ate the fruit in the garden. Their eyes were opened and they saw their nakedness, and they felt ashamed.

They tried to cover their shame with fig leaves, but those would never work. So, they tried to hide in the bushes.

When we sin we do the same thing. We do something that we know is shameful, and we try to cover it up. We may try to atone for our sins by making it up in another area. I know I shouldn’t have done that, so I’ll just do a little bit extra over here to balance it out.

Or maybe we do like Adam when we feel ashamed, and we try to shift the blame. It was that woman you gave me God, it was her fault. I wasn’t going to eat it, it wasn’t my idea, she started it. Blame shifting.

I know I should have been a better spouse, but they weren’t treating me right either.

I know I shouldn’t have said what I said, but they started it.

Or maybe instead of blame shifting, you take your feelings of shame and you withdraw. You go hide in the bushes, like Adam. You pull back from your spouse.

Or pull back from your friend.

Or pull back from church.

Or maybe even run away from God. Maybe that’s where you are right now. You’re hiding in the bushes, feeling ashamed, not wanting any one to see you. You hear God’s voice calling out to you, but you’re ashamed, and afraid.

Don’t listen to the lies of Satan that would have you believe that you are dark, and permanently so. Satan wants you to know that you are guilty, and that you should be ashamed for that sin, but he doesn’t want you to know that there is hope.

And that hope is the gospel of Jesus Christ which says that Christ came, as the faithful Adam, the faithful bridegroom, and he perfectly fulfilled every stroke of the law. He never once sinned, and therefore he is the only person ever to experience life without any sense of shame. Nothing about his life was dark or shameful.

But in addition to that, he also went to the cross. That means that he died, which he didn’t earn, and he died in the place of his bride. Even though his bride was unlovely and shameful, even though as verse 6 says, she didn’t keep her own vineyard, and she was not pure, He died for her.

He willingly went down to death in order to get her. To wash her. He despised the shame, and joyfully went to redeem her by taking her punishment upon himself. He took the shame of sin away, so that we might experience his shameless life.

And so that means for all who trust in Christ, regardless of whatever sin you’ve committed, regardless of how shameful you feel, regardless of how unkept you let your vineyard get, Christ sees you. He knows it all.

And he doesn’t see you as dark and unlovely. He says to his bride: O, most beautiful among women. You’re the apple of my eye. You’re the most beautiful thing on the planet, and I have eyes for no other.

You may want Christ’s gaze to be away from your shame, but Christ sees every bit of your sin and he’s not repulsed by it. He loves you, every bit of you, and there’s no part of your past that could ever make you unlovely to him. Nothing is going to surprise him. No darkness can overcome him.

As John the Baptist says in John 3: “The one who has the bride is the bridegroom.” Christ is THE Bridegroom, and he will surely have his bride. No fig leaves, no accusations, no guilty conscience, no slander from Satan, none of that will stand in his way.

Doesn’t that make you want to rejoice? Believers, I hope you remember this passage, and remember these words of your king when you feel your conscience defiled and you feel ashamed for your sin.

Let the words of your king comfort your heart.

But what if I don’t know this king? What if Christ is far from me? Or what if I know Christ, but I feel distant from him?

What if you’re like the woman here, and you’re asking where is my shepherd king? like verse 7:

Tell me, you whom my soul loves,
where you pasture your flock

What does the king say?

If you do not know,
O most beautiful among women,
follow in the tracks of the flock,
and pasture your young goats

Follow the tracks of the flock. Follow the old paths. Follow the well-worn trails that the shepherd has taken again and again.

If you want to find the king, then go where he goes. Be where he has said he would be. He’s telling you to avail yourself of the blessings that he’s given to you. Listen to His word, to the preaching of the word of God, sing with the saints, pray with God’s people.

God has promised to feed his people, to be with his bride, and he does that in his church. That’s where you will find your shepherd-king. It is there that you will be able to pasture your young ones. It is there that you will be able to rest beside the shepherds’ tents.

He’s not far from you. He’s near. He’s ready to receive you, indeed eager to receive you. He delights in his beloved, for she is like the loveliest of Pharaoh’s horses, adorned with ornaments and fine jewels.

Don’t run from him. Follow the old paths of the word and prayer, and you will find him.


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