Dark Yet Lovely
Take me with you – let us hurry! Let the king bring me into his chambers. We rejoice and delight in you; we will praise your love more than wine. How right they are to adore you! (Song 1:4)
The Lord’s hand has been heavy on me this week. At times, I have just been undone by the tangible “weight of glory” that has physically pressed me to the floor. As we begin to taste new levels of intimacy, we are always drawn to a place of renewed intoxication. I say “drawn” because we confess that we cannot enter into deep communion unless the Lord takes me with Him.
He always initiates. Then like young lovers, we are spurred by deep desire – consumed by the inner drive He awakens. We are compelled by an urgency to go further into the bed chamber. Understandably, our first look at Him brings love at first sight, and we almost impetuously want to go all the way. Not just talking about it. Not just motivated by duty. We are honestly in a hurry to run into the secret place of His Presence. Although our hearts are revived by this ever-increasing flame of holy love, it is so intense that our strength is sapped. Wave after wave of His presence pours over us. We feel it transforming us.
Again, the text makes reference to the literal drunkenness – the daze that accompanies young love – as it did earlier, “your love is more delightful than wine” (vs. 2).
Here we see the beloved, like a young girl with her friends, daydreaming of being drawn up into the chariots and whisked away by the great King Solomon. Like a fairy tale, she is watching on the street corner as he passes by. She is like a young girl who dreams about a romantic prince. This is first love. Remember how your heart once sank for your first love?
In this life we become jaded. Desensitized. We forget. We forget how just a glance in our direction, or a slight brush of the skin, used to elicit such emotion and passion. The subtle innuendos and softly spoken words that used to tingle us to the core. We would spend hours just thinking about our lover. We couldn’t eat. Couldn’t sleep. We would read into every gesture – relish every word, drink in every pause in the conversation.
But the bride has a most severe mindset to overcome. She is born with an innate sense of unworthiness. She wonders, "Who am I to draw near to this inapproachable light?" She still feels darkened by the stain of sin. She is still in an identity crisis, not knowing her true, unflawed beauty in His eyes.
"Dark am I ... " she says. She begins to argue her way out of the worthiness which has truly been bestowed upon her by Christ. "Yet lovely," He interrupts her (vs. 5)
Most scholars assume that the bride is speaking from a place of schizophrenia, "I am dark but light. Evil but good." And this is because many theologians have no concept of our utter deliverance from the sinful nature. They lack a grid for our utter, spotless beauty in Christ.
In fact, this single verse contains an entire conversation back and forth between the Shulamite and the Lord. The original verses had no punctuation or verse numbers. This is not the bride stating both that she is dark and lovely.
This simple but profound interruption of her false identity is the very first word spoken from the lips of the King in Song of Solomon ...
"But you are lovely ..."
So many are burdened with a false sense of darkness. The remembrance of sinfulness is something that people feel they must carry their entire lives. In fact, many feel that the general uncleanness of this life will always weigh them down. Not so.
The bride is startled, but she continues to make her case. Surely, I cannot be clean in your eyes, she says! Your number one argument with the Lord will always be your attempt to convince Him you are still a sinner. He says you are perfect with His perfection.
"O daughters of Jerusalem, I am dark like the tents of Kedar," she continues in this verse.
The tents of Kedar, were the dwellings of nomads who wandered in the desert. She says, "Yes, perhaps my sins are 'covered.'" But she still feels a sense of darkness, burned by the sun of this fallen world. The oppression and hardening of sin and suffering is a stain we think will always taint us - even if we are "positionally" forgiven. Like these skin tents, the Lord gave Adam a covering made of skins when he sinned in the Garden of Eden. It was the first death we ever see in the scripture. It shows that something had to die in order to cover our sins.
But the Lord will not put up with the Shulamite's argument. He does not see her sins as merely "covered." He doesn't just forgive your sins. He eradicates sinfulness itself. He doesn't just clean the outside of the cup, but His cleansing came from the inside out. He does not see her under a veil of darkness. He tells her what she is truly like:
" ... like the tent curtains of Solomon," He interrupts her once more. (vs. 5).
You, oh bride, are like the pure, white linens that hang in the Holy of Holies. You are abiding and covered in the glory and center of my heart! You are altogether pure and lovely.
We begin to see that this song is a song of her true identity woven into her with word.
It is important to remember that, despite this idea of my own darkness, He sees the allure of her True Self. A fragrance that attracts the King. It is not darkness with which I identify. I am the bride. I may feel darkened on the one hand, yes. But the truth of scripture is that I am the spotless, holy queen. The Canticles here foreshadow the the eradication of the sinful nature of man centuries before the spilling of Christ’s cleansing blood.
Can it also be perhaps - that before love is conceived -- before she has ever even come to saving faith – that there is an honest assertion of her fallen state? Before she even begins to enter this garden, she must acknowledge her shortcomings. There is a simple, but straightforward confession. I am dark. But before a further word is spoken, I do not stay there, because He has interrupted me with the truth of the new creation: "I am lovely."
Does it take a while for us to realize the full extent of the beauty He has place upon us? Yes! But because I haven't realized it doesn't make it any less true. The Song is a continual reminder of this truth. Even now, she continues to argue the case for her darkness:
"Do not stare at me because I am dark, because I am darkened by the sun. My mother’s sons were angry with me and made me take care of the vineyards; my own vineyard I have neglected" (vs. 6)
It was the world that tainted me. I have been outside. My senses were deadened, hardened under the oppression of the sun. I was drawn to labor under other men’s vision. I served the needs and goals of others. Other men’s ministries and projects. Drawn to labor for the business, trafficking and desire of men. And under this sun, I was scorched. Perhaps burned out. My own vineyard was neglected.
Where is the vineyard I have neglected? It is the secret relationship with my Lover. That solitary place we enter, which bears the fruit of intimacy. In the business of work and ministry and doing good for others, I have neglected my first love.
The greatest thing a Christian can ever do is to cultivate a secret relationship with the Lord.
"Tell me, you whom I love, where you graze your flock and where you rest your sheep at midday. Why should I be like a veiled woman beside the flocks of your friends?" (vs. 7)
We see here that the beloved begins to dare to draw near. For the burning of love within can no longer constrain her from drawing close to the Shepherd, even though her idea of darkness may contrast the seeming purity of the “flocks of His friends.” There is, for each of us, a point of choice, when we determine just exactly who we will be. Whether we will continue to stay behind the veil of our false identity, or draw near to Him in trust. It is this desperate longing to draw near to Him, even in the midst of our lack of revelation, which leads us to the place where His sheep feed and find rest. We remember anew that “while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8). It causes us to see ourselves in a different light. We are no longer the “veiled.” We are the Beloved.
Consider Mary Magdalene. Surely her blemishes were hidden from no one. Yet the eyes of Jesus saw only one who was “forgiven much.” She could have stayed outside the religious tents of the Pharisees, and outside the inner circle of disciples, as Jesus dined at their table. She could have chosen not to draw near to the flocks of His friends. But instead, she was driven by a broken adoration to weep at His feet and pour herself out in His presence. She had tasted His mercy. This inner drive caused her to scorn the shame of her own ill repute and the accusations of men, and she pressed into a place of intimacy. She humbly exposed herself and her weaknesses before men, to be counted as a lover of God. Boldly, she must have asked, “Why should I remain outside?” And so she sought Him out.
Mary chose to lean in past the veil of religious separation. Past the opinions and doctrines of men. In her weakness, the strength of God was perfected and she was exalted in His sight. We also must seek Him out. But where does he graze His flocks?
If you do not know, most beautiful of women, follow the tracks of the sheep and graze your young goats by the tents of the shepherds (vs. 8)
To find where He feeds His flock, we are called to learn from others. Become corporate. Follow in the footsteps of the sheep. Learn from the shepherds, the pastors. As we merge close to their tents, the knowledge of God is deposited into us. The atmosphere of heaven rubs off onto us. We step cautiously at first into this place of vulnerability and submission. But later it is rewarded. Christ is multiplied and birthed through us, even as we graze our young goats (prepare the sin offering). Like David, we are prepared in the fields. Remember, David’s faithfulness with a “few sheep” was later transformed into kingly authority and an eternal throne. It is what we do with little that determines whether the Lord will entrust us with much.
Notice here, that no longer is her darkness stared upon, but the Beloved is called “beautiful.” She is no longer struggling against her own blemishes, but she is justified. Though she is still learning and growing – it is the gladness and pleasure of God toward her that brings her into maturity. It is not a staring into her own sin, but a gazing into His eyes of fire that illuminates her.
And next, we hear the Lover speak. His words are a statement of approval and worth:
I liken you, my darling, to a mare harnessed to one of the chariots of Pharoah. Your cheeks are beautiful with earrings, your neck with strings of jewels. We will make you earrings of gold, studded with silver (vs. 9-11).
Only God can get away with calling his bride a horse. No, but honestly, this passage speaks of great, passionate favor. He tells the bride exactly how He pictures her: I liken you, my darling …He names her, as Adam named Eve. He tells her who she is. There is no darkness here. She is a horse pulling the chariot of Pharoah. That means she has been found worthy and selected to carry the Kings glory! A carrier of the presence of the Lord. The greatest of us cannot conceive of this honor, though we have all been called to such a task. Keep in mind, this was written in the days when Uzzah dropped dead for reaching out his hand to steady the Ark of the Covenant. To be a carrier of the glory is a tremendous, unheard of honor, now afforded to all believers.
This passage also speaks of the perfect submission that has been fused into the bride – and not of her own doing. Even as her strength is harnessed, so does she also wear earrings – again, this is a sign of a love slave, or bondservant. One who has chosen to submit. In doing so, she exchanges the yoke of pride and rebellion with jewels to adorn her neck. The yoke of the Lord is truly so light, it can be compared to a jewel-encrusted adornment. At one point in the Old Testament, the Lord actually had to rebuke His people for talking about the “burden of the Lord,” for nothing the Lord places upon us can truly be considered a burden when weighed on the scales of eternity. Even our sufferings and light, momentary afflictions cannot be rightly compared to the weight of glory they are storing up for us.
We will continue our look at Solomon’s Song next week.