GETTING THE MESSAGE/God’s love for His people
Song of Songs should be taken allegorically or typically. This means it was inspired by the Holy Spirit to depict the relationship between Christ and His church. To the Christian, Christ is glorious, a great King and Savior; to Christ, the church is beautiful, the people He loves and saves.
In this verse, the Lord uses parts of the body to describe His love for His people. Verse 1 reads, “Behold, you are beautiful, my love, behold, you are beautiful!” The Lord Jesus would often preface an emphatic point with the words, “Truly, Truly, I say to you.” Beautiful is emphatic here.
We know that by nature there is no beauty in us; nothing to commend us to God. We are unclean, corrupted by sin. The Christian is conscious of his moral failings and his spiritual faults. And when God calls a person beautiful, He means the beauty of holiness. So, it is plain that if God calls me beautiful, it is because He has done a work in me.
The work God does in a believer is alluded to in the rest of verse one. First, He says, “Your eyes are doves behind your veil.” The eyes of a Syrian dove were considered beautiful, but the word dove points us to the Holy Spirit. It was a dove that brought back an emblem of peace to Noah as the waters of judgment receded.
When Jesus was baptized, the Holy Spirit came down to rest upon Him. The Holy Spirit is invisible. How did He choose to represent His presence? It was in the form of a dove. It is the Holy Spirit who works new life in us to unite us to Christ. He seals the work that makes us holy and beautiful to God. The apostle Paul says in Ephesians one: “He chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him.” Are you beautiful to God? If you have Christ in you, yes, you are.
Next in verse one we read, “Your hair is like a flock of goats leaping down the slopes of Gilead.” You might not think that comparing your hair to a flock of goats is flattering. But some historians tell us that goats in that region had a silky fineness to their hair with ringlets that were striking. And the hills of Gilead were renown for their beauty. So, it’s a beautiful sight to see.
But Gilead is important in church history. When the Lord told Jacob to take his family, leave Laban, and return to the land of his kindred, Jacob left without telling his miserly father-in-law. When Laban found out, he pursued Jacob and caught up with him in the “hill country of Gilead” (Genesis 31). Jacob had Esau threatening death before him, and a hostile Laban behind him.
But Jacob and his family were the Lord’s church, the Lord’s people. The Lord warned Laban in a dream to be careful how he even spoke to Jacob. Then, after Jacob wrestled with God, the Lord softened Esau’s heart toward Jacob. So, the Lord preserved His people. Christ would come from them. The slopes of Gilead are indeed beautiful.
Later in Genesis, when Jacob’s children had grown, out of jealousy Joseph’s brothers threw him in a pit. Then they sold him to men from Gilead on their way to Egypt. The Scriptures tell us that these men were traders in balm and myrrh. Gilead was renowned for its healing balm. Joseph would later prove to be the real healing balm of Gilead by saving his brothers.
The prophet Jeremiah would ask, “Is there no balm in Gilead” (Jeremiah 8)? The spiritual health of Judah was such that no medicine could be found to cure it. There was no savior for Judah at that time. Babylon was coming, and Jerusalem would be overthrown. But there was the promise of one to come. One like Joseph, only greater.
Edgar Allen Poe, in his famous poem, “The Raven,” asked the same question that Jeremiah did. But in looking into the abyss of death, Poe saw neither light nor hope. But when God looks at his people, He sees a healing balm in the soul. He sees Christ, the Son of God, and Savior of sinners. He sees everlasting life in them. He sees one who conquered death.
Through Scripture, the Holy Spirit reveals Christ to us. All these types, metaphors, stories, and words are to lead us to Christ, to form Christ in us. Christ is the healing balm we must have.
The Rev. Chris Shelton is pastor of Union’s First Presbyterian Church.