May 24, 2017:  Who Is This?

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Song of Solomon (also known as Song of Songs) is Solomon’s celebrated exploration of the passionate and intimate nature of the love of God. His poem asks an intriguing question: “Who is that coming up from the wilderness, leaning on her beloved?” (Song of Solomon 8:5a). Who is she? The clue we are given is that she is “leaning” upon her beloved. I actually like the ambiguity of not knowing her exact identity because it invites us to ponder. The single thing about this person that defines her is her posture toward someone she holds very dear. This is a song that celebrates the love of God for Israel, it is a model of how we are to love one another within marriage, it is a picture of Jesus’ love for His Church — but it is also a picture of our personal communion with Jesus. Do we recognize ourselves coming up from the wilderness? What would we find if we leaned upon Jesus in this way and how would we do that?
 
To lean upon the beloved would be to discover a love that is tender and merciful. It takes a profound work of God to accept that God is relentlessly tender and compassionate toward us. I believe we need reminding of this every day. The essence of the Father’s nature is compassion. The heart of the Father is defined by tenderness toward us. “… because of the tender mercy of our God, whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high to give light to those who sit  in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.” (Luke 1:78-79) 

How do we lean into tenderness? This is really all about how you choose to look at it. Is a particular generous act or kind word spoken to you the tenderness and mercy of God in your life or just a nice coincidence? Maybe you feel you don’t deserve any tenderness so that could not possibly have been God. My experience is that God will always leave the door open and He knows that we may choose to explain away His tenderness and mercy. John Shea wrote, “There are signs of His presence. People find them in the ordinary and in the extraordinary. They are open to argument and refutation but their impact on the ones who receive them can only be welcomed.” I would encourage you to allow your heart to be honest about the impact. Often, we don’t want to look foolish to ourselves! God is not much bothered about that. Solomon’s encouragement is to look for the lover of your soul through the lens of His tender mercy toward you.
 
Second, we would find ourselves leaning upon a love that is fierce and jealous! Leaning upon her beloved, she says, “…for love is strong as death, jealousy is fierce as the grave.” (Song of Solomon 8:6b) This jealousy is not the “green-eyed monster” variety, a jealousy that is paranoid and mistrusting. This jealousy is the quality of possessiveness in love that we are supposed to have. Professor Greg Garrett wrote, “Those who passionately love are passionately possessive… exclusivity is not of itself corrupt or oppressive… the term jealousy (in this sense) refers to a proper possessiveness in the setting of a wholesome relationship. Rightly experienced by healthy souls this exclusivity is part of the glory of love and further indicates the seriousness of entering into this relationship.”
 
That should not surprise us. The same fierce love that would come running over the mountains and the seas to us, the same fierce love that would wrap itself around us in the very eye of the storm is the same fierce love that sent Jesus to the Cross. He loves us with a passionate, exclusive commitment, and He would have us meet His love with a passionate, exclusive commitment to Him. How do we lean upon His fierce and jealous love? We might begin by asking Him, “Lord, what is standing in the way of my exclusive surrender to you?” Then ask Him for the strength to put whatever that is down.
 
Finally, we would encounter a love that is permanent and unquenchable. Solomon wrote, “Set me as a seal upon your heart, as a seal upon your arm” (Song of Solomon 8:6a). We have spoken about mutual possession but the distinction here is that Solomon is pointing us to a mutual possession that is permanent. The seal that is described here is upon your heart (a deep and inward sealing) and upon your arm (a seal that is public and external). In Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32) we see just this interplay. We read, “But while [the younger, prodigal son] was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him.” (verse 20b). Notice the deep and inward sealing of the father’s love. We are also told, “But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate.” (verses 22-24). There is the external, public declaration of the father’s jealous love of his son.  
 
Solomon provides two other images given to the permanence of God’s love. He wrote, “Its flashes are flashes of fire, the very flame of the Lord. Many waters cannot quench love, neither can floods drown it.” (Song of Solomon 8:6c-7a). Here are two opposing elements: fire and water. Who wins when fire and water go up against each other? If there is enough water, the water will always win. But here the fire wins because it is no ordinary fire — it is the flame of the Lord. There is only one express mention of the Lord in Song of Solomon and this is it.
 
The “flame of the Lord” is a powerful image because it takes us to two extraordinary times in Israel’s journey with the Lord. First, there was Moses before the burning bush — a fire that was unquenchable [Exodus 3:2-6]. And then the closing of the Red Sea — millions of gallons of water were held back while the people of God made good their escape but the water did not extinguish the pillar of fire that gave them light by night [Exodus 13:21-22].
 
Lest we should think that we need to be the source of this divine, unquenchable fire, John Bunyan provided us with a beautiful picture of permanent assurance. In his Pilgrim’s Progress, the character Christian sees water being poured onto a fire that is burning against a wall. He fears that the work of God’s grace in his own life is being extinguished by the devil. “But,” we are told, “his wonder grew when he saw how the flames burned higher and hotter. He was then shown the other side of the wall where he saw a man with a vessel of oil in his hand of which he did continually cast, but secretly into the fire. This, it was explained to him, is Jesus who continually with the oil of His grace maintains the work already begun in the heart.”
 
Ultimately, the Cross is the supreme symbol of the tender and merciful, fierce and jealous, permanent and unquenchable love of Jesus Christ for you — the love that is above all loves. The Cross is the absolute assurance that Solomon was undeniably correct: Jesus truly is the lover of your soul.

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