Lectures on the Song of Solomon

Song of Solomon  •  15 min. read  •  grade level: 8
We are about to look at a book of Scripture which, I suppose, has often exercised the minds of many of us. But it is remarkable that although modern thought might presume to speak lowly of such a book, there is no part of the Hebrew Scriptures which has more distinct, positive authority. That is to say there is not a single groundwork of divine authority which it does not possess, save one, perhaps, that might be brought up against it, and that is, that it is one of the very few books of the Bible which is not quoted in the New Testament. But there is not the very slightest ground for question on that score, and for this simple reason: that although it be not cited, the very groundwork of it is constantly before the mind of the Spirit of God. The first book of the New Testament most plainly alludes to the great thought of Canticles; that is, the bridal relation as the sign or symbol of Christ's special love to His people. For although, undoubtedly, we have in the New Testament the place of children and the Father's love; and although we have also the figure of the shepherd and his care for the sheep, still we see this very relationship taken up and used by the Holy Ghost as the peculiar figure of the nearness of love in which the Lord stands to ourselves. This, however, has exposed the book, I think, to be misunderstood.
In that haste which is at all times apt to characterize want of faith as well as want of spiritual intelligence, it has been taken for granted that the bride of the Song of Solomon must be the same as the bride of which the Apostle Paul speaks-the bride of which John speaks in the Revelation. But this in nowise follows, and I will endeavor to make this plain before I enter upon the hook itself.
If we turn then to the Gospel of Matthew, we find that the first occasion in the New Testament where the bridal relation comes before us is in the 9th chapter wherein the Lord is vindicating His disciples on the occasion of questions being raised by Pharisaic prejudices. Jesus said to the disciples of John, who identified themselves with the feeling of the Pharisees, "Can the children of the bride chamber mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them?" Now, there we have a distinct allusion. But where do we hear of the Bridegroom? It is supposed to be something thoroughly well known. He does not explain it. Where was the title of the "bridegroom" got from? Unquestionably from Canticles-the Song of Solomon. That is, we have here, not, it is true, a quotation, but we have what appears to me to be even stronger than a quotation. We have it as a distinctly recognized fact. We have it as a grand truth that was thoroughly familiar to the mind of the Jews, and mark, beloved friends, with the stamp of the Son of God upon it. For it is not, you observe, a title which the disciples of John use in speaking to Jesus, but it is the Lord Jesus who uses it to them. "Can the children of the bridechamber mourn," says He, "as long as the bridegroom is with them? But the days will come when the bridegroom shall be taken from them, and then they shall fast."
Now, you will notice what singular beauty-and I need not say divine perfection-there is in these words. He does not speak of the bride. He simply speaks of the children of the bridechamber. He knew right well that He was about to bring out another to fill the place as His bride. But here there is no reference at all, for at this time our Lord was being simply proposed to Israel. It was a question of whether the ancient people of God would receive Him. Had they received Him, He would have been the bridegroom, and they would have composed the bride. And it is plain, as I have said, that the Lord does not set this forth as something which He was making known for the first time, but as something which they ought to have been perfectly familiar with, and. of course, grounded upon the Word of God. Where was it taken from? From the book of which I have read a few words this evening.
Well, if we turn again to a later part of this same Gospel of Matthew-to the parable of the ten virgins which is so justly familiar to the Christian-what do we find there? We have the kingdom of heaven compared to ten virgins. It is not the bride, you observe, but virgins who went forth with their lamps to meet the bridegroom. Now, there can be no question whatever that the bridegroom is the Lord Jesus. It is plain that the bride is not the point in the parable of the ten virgins. It is virgins who were going forth to meet the bridegroom. And where then do we find the bride? Solemn silence. In the first allusion where the Lord spoke of the bridegroom, there is no reference to the bride. It is the children of the bridechamber, and not a word about the bride. Remarkable silence! The natural thing would have been to speak of the bride as well; and so natural is it that in some ancient copies-one of the most ancient copies-made of this very parable, the writer slipped into this mistake; for he represented the kingdom of heaven as likened unto ten virgins which took their lamps and went forth to meet the bridegroom and the bride. They have added the words "and the bride." I need not tell you that there is not the slightest authority for it.
No, what I want to show is the striking wisdom of the Lord in that He does not say a word about the bride. There is the bridegroom, and he is coming-because that is the point: he is coming. It is not a scene in heaven; this is not the point. But here we find the bridegroom coming, and these virgins are going out to meet him. They are not the bride of Christ which He is going to take to Himself; and the ten virgins could not be the figure of the bride.
It is quite plain, then, that the bride is unmentioned-unseen -and the reason to my mind is most solemn. The Lord perfectly well knew that the bride, whom their hearts were familiar with from the Old Testament imagery, was to be no bride yet-that the bride would be faithless-that the bride would refuse the bridegroom for the time. The bride, therefore, does not appear in either of His allusions. For He was not like one who had to learn. He was not one who did not know the truth; He was a divine Person. It was all before Him. He might wait; but even when He did wait, and when it was too plain that He was thoroughly rejected by the Jews, and was now about to lay down His life as a sacrifice-not to come as a bridegroom for the bride, but to lay down His life as a sacrifice for sinners- even then, in this striking parable at the very close there is not a word about the bride. From first to last the bride appears not.
Now that, to me, is most instructive because one of the objects of the Gospel of Matthew is to show not more that He was the true and divine Messiah, Emmanuel, than that the true Emmanuel-the Messiah-would be rejected by Israel. Hence, therefore, there is a veil over Israel. How singular! He does not even name her. She would refuse Him. He does not say a word about her. He turns to that which was near to His own heart, not to guiltiness-the guilty unbelief of her that ought to have welcomed the returning Bridegroom, now present. He was the present Bridegroom even then; but He speaks of ourselves, really, for it is the Christian body, and, indeed, the professing Christian body, that He means by the ten virgins. He does not refer to the Jewish remnant, as some people have fancied. There is nothing at all about the Jewish remnant in the ten virgins. The ten virgins are clearly Christian professors who go forth to meet the Bridegroom. That is our position, and they characterize Christianity.
The Jew will remain where he is, and be blest of God where he is, when the day comes to bless the Jew. They never go forth to meet the Bridegroom. The Bridegroom will come to them when their heart is turned. There will be that turn of heart, and the veil will be taken away when it turns to the Lord- the heart of Israel, as we are told in the 3rd chapter of the 2nd epistle to the Corinthians. The Lord was clearly speaking here of those that go forth, and He is speaking of some foolish and some wise. When the Jewish remnant comes there will be none foolish. The wise shall understand (Dan. 12:1010Many shall be purified, and made white, and tried; but the wicked shall do wickedly: and none of the wicked shall understand; but the wise shall understand. (Daniel 12:10)), and they are the understanding ones-that Jewish remnant of the last days.
And what shows still more plainly that it is not the Jewish remnant is this: they have got oil in their vessels, whereas the Jews will have the Holy Ghost poured out upon them after their relationship with Christ is established. We have the Holy Ghost poured out when Christ went away. They will not have the Holy Ghost poured out upon them till Christ comes back again; so that distinction, therefore, is perfectly plain. And see how all corroborates this, because they go to sleep. The Jewish remnant will never go to sleep. From the time that they are called, they will pass through unequaled fires and tribulation. People do not go to sleep in times of tribulation, but in times of ease. That is what has come to pass in Christendom. There were times of ease, and people went to sleep; and that is what we find here -the Lord waking them up at the end. But, I repeat, the ten virgins portray Christendom, good and bad, wise and foolish, and not the Jewish body. The bride is nowhere seen. She is not even named. I have no doubt that the returning Bridegroom will take the bride after this; but the ten virgins are a totally different figure, and they are viewed here not as the bride, but as the cortege, as it were-the bridal procession-those that go forth to meet Him and go in with Him to the marriage. But then it is another who is the bride; and if you ask who that bride would be, if the bride were named at all, I answer, without hesitation, the bride of the Canticles-Jerusalem.
We must not suppose, beloved friends, that it is anything strange that Jerusalem should have such a title attached to her. The Prophets take it up, and the Psalms too. The 45th psalm refers most clearly to that Jewish bride. She is the queen. There are others to be blessed in that bright day, but she is the one that is all glorious within. And we must not suppose that this is any derogation from the heavenly bride, the Church, for I quite admit that the same persons who are the wise virgins in the 25th of Matthew do compose that heavenly bride. In short, we must remember that the bride is only a figure, and that there is the Church which has a nearer place than any of the others that are in heaven; and Jerusalem-or Zion if you will- will have a special place near to Messiah on the earth. The Lord's heart, surely, is large enough for both heaven and earth. He who is God as well as man-He who is the Head of the Church as well as the Head of the Jew—loves, and will love, them both with the fullest and most fervent love. Consequently, as in the Old Testament we have a bride who is clearly defined and most unquestionably not the Church, so in the New Testament we have a bride that is fully brought out; and that bride is as clearly the Church and not Jerusalem, as in the Old Testament it is Jerusalem and not the Church.
This, I think, will help very considerably in understanding the Song of Solomon No person must suppose that this will make the Song of Solomon less interesting. The first point, beloved friends, is always to consider not what we count interesting, but to ask what is the truth-what is the mind of God. Now, I think that whenever we have God's mind as a settled certainty, there is nothing that is of deeper interest; and I need hardly say that if such will be the love of Christ-so great and so tender-toward His earthly bride, would it be a fair inference that Christ's love is less toward His heavenly bride? I should have thought the contrary and, therefore, that we were most entirely entitled to infer that the Lord's love is larger than we thought it was -that the Lord will have an object most dear to Him upon the earth in a special nearness to Him, as the Lord will surely have an object which is peculiarly near to Him in heaven. And if we belong to Christ at all now, such will be our relationship, and such we are entitled to know is our relationship at this time. This, I repeat, is not to take away Scripture from our hearts, but it is to give us a true intelligence of Scripture.
I might refer to the Gospel of John in order to carry forward the same proof with regard to the figure of the bridegroom, and, consequently, of the earthly bride-for the Church was not yet revealed when the Lord spoke there or when John the Baptist gave his testimony to Christ there-but I prefer to put it upon the words of Christ. John the Baptist, no doubt, bears the same stamp as the Lord Jesus does-I would not say of inspiration. No; I speak of Him as a divine Person. He spoke the words of God, and John the Baptist gave here his testimony from God as truly as if it had been God Himself speaking; but, still, we must always distinguish between one who is merely an instrument and one who is God's express image. Such was Jesus.
I do not wish to merely bring a number of texts as if it were making the truth stronger. I hope that I am addressing those who would be quite satisfied with one scripture if there were one scripture only. The man who requires twenty scriptures evidently does not believe one. The man who thinks that Scripture is more certain because he multiplies the proofs, has certainly no proper sense of its divine certitude. I take my stand, then, upon this, that the books of the Old Testament-Psalm and Prophets-are alluding from time to time (I might say frequently) to the figure of the bride as that which Jerusalem is to fill in a day that is coming; and that the New Testament takes its stand on the lips of our Lord Himself sealing this great truth, the more important because Jerusalem was going to refuse Him, alas! How blessed His testimony! The Lord, however, although He does not speak of Jerusalem here as the bride, speaks of Himself as the Bridegroom. He did not fail in His love, although she failed in hers.
That is the great truth which I draw from it; but, that truth is founded, I repeat, upon the Song of Solomon. The Song of Solomon, therefore, is evidently stamped with the fullest divine authority, and not merely because it is in the very heart, if I may say so, of the Bible-not merely because it was always undisputed-not merely because it was in the very earliest translation that was ever made of the Scriptures. It is not like the Apocryphal books or anything that could be questioned. That book was translated into the leading language of the Gentiles long before the coming of Christ, so that there can be no doubt whatever as to its full divine authority. And, further, it was familiarly understood at that time, so that our Lord could appeal to the prominent figure of that book which, I may say, envelopes the whole of it; for the whole book is devoted to the love between the bridegroom and the bride. I know, of course, that Solomon was the author of it; and it has been thought by many that Solomon was the subject of it. Whatever may be the historical circumstances which gave occasion to the book, that is a matter which has no particular claim to occupy our mind. What we find is not the occasion which gave rise to it, but the truth of God in it-what the Holy Ghost meant for the edification of saints at all times, and, very especially, when this book will apply. For it bears another great stamp of divine truth about it, and it is this of which, I am persuaded: that the true bearing of the book is future-that it is not yet accomplished.
The Jews have regarded it as a historical allegory—and there they missed the mind of God-of the dealings of God with the Jewish people-that it was the love of Jehovah for Israel from the day when He brought her out of Egypt. They naturally applied the coming of the bride and the bridegroom out of the wilderness to God bringing His people out of the house of bondage, and taking them for His own people before the face of all the world.