~ I am very dark, but lovely,
O daughters of Jerusalem,
like the tents of Kedar,
like the curtains of Solomon ~
Our Obsession with the Outward
Other than all being blokes with varying degrees of sex appeal, what do Dale Winton, Donald Trump and Bradley Cooper all have in common?
They all have terrible fake tans.
Granted, this probably isn’t the most Solomonic introduction I’ll ever write on this blog but one that still has a measure of poignancy for this second instalment in our Song of Solomon series:
Our obsession with the external appearance of things – the way we look – is one of the most controlling and crippling idols known to man. It leads us to do the craziest of things: gluttony over God; now over forever; prison over mountainous climbs; temporary over eternal; counterfeits over truth and C.S.Lewis’ mud pies over holidays at the sea.
It’s been this way since Adam and Eve lurched naked into the undergrowth to break off handfuls of shrubbery with which to conceal their first furtive blushes before God, (Genesis 3).
Exiting East of Eden
Manifesting in both our wilful oversight and oblivious ignorance, this imbalanced human bias towards ‘the external’, (almost always to the neglect and detriment of the internal), hurtled on out and East of Eden, very nearly mutilating Matthew’s Messianic genealogy. Indeed, imagining the unthinkable for a moment, consider the Royal lineage of Jesus hijacked by the impressive-looking Eliab rather than secured forever with Israel’s anointed singer of songs (1 Samuel 16). It was only the Word of the LORD and the discernment of the Prophet that averted that particular catastrophe – and a million others besides.
In just one ancient moment, the Adamic impulse of the heart of man had been infected. Now, established in sinister arrhythmias, it is forever creating myogenic gauntlets through which history must run. Indeed, three chapters on from the Matthew genealogy linking Abraham and Jesus, Christ Himself resisted and rebuked the temptation of Satan to prefer the fleeting world of the outer over the glorious and infinite realities of the inner, (Matthew 4:1-11).
Most ultimately, via an infarction of grace, it was at Golgotha that the human race were saved from our addiction with ‘the outward’. The external world of Genesis 3, in which worship and relationship with God limped through the law, was instantaneously transformed into a radically internalised reality – one that saves us completely, forever, and by faith alone. (Jeremiah 31:33; 2 Corinthians 3:3; Ephesians 2:8).
So, I know I haven’t shown you yet, but here we are on the cusp of one of the most important, gospel-centric, soteriological verses in the entire Bible.
And so, Father God, we pray:
I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you (us) the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you (we) may know him better. (Ephesians 1:17)
A Quick Overview
In this second post on Solomon’s exquisite song, we’ve reached a verse that will transform your life – if you let it – and project you into a revelation that’s at the magma core of Christian discipleship.
Before we get to the verse, let’s quickly get our bearings and remember where we are:
We’re still lingering – gloriously – in the embryonic courtship, above. These are the very first verses of an intimate love song and we do well not to rush on as the fragrances mingle.
Here’s our verse smashing onto the scene:
I am very dark, but lovely, O daughters of Jerusalem,like the tents of Kedar,like the curtains of Solomon… (Songs 1:5)
The principal key in understanding this book of love that borders on eroticism – and yet that skilfully avoids pornography – is that of allegory. i.e. this is pointing to something else that is like this but that is way better.
Think of John the Baptist as being, in a way, an allegory of Jesus; think of human marriage as being an allegory of the wedding supper of the Lamb and Pilgrim’s Progress as an allegory of the spiritual journey of the believer.
An allegorical approach and understanding of the Song of Solomon means that we can explore different layers of meaning and interpretation that are not mutually exclusive but rather all constituent parts of the whole.
For example, the relationship between King Solomon and his bride is an allegory of the relationship between Jesus and His Church (see Psalm 2:8) just as it is also an allegory of the relationship between Christ and me…and you. The macro and the micro; the corporate church gathering and the private bedroom ‘one on one’.
So when we read and re-read our verse, we’re thinking on multiple levels but, dare I say, mainly on a personal, individual and devotional level with Jesus – i.e. this poem is talking about my personal relationship with God – my churning heart and His.
Ugly yet Lovely
In the ancient, patriarchal time of King Solomon, families functioned with brothers having responsibility of disciplining their sisters much like we would think of a parent and child relationship today. As strange as this seems to us now, this is just how things worked culturally at that time in history.
The more specific context of Songs 1:5 is that the Shulamite woman has an extremely tanned complexion having been forced to work outside under the sun, most likely at her angry brother’s behest. The cultural faux pas of a lady working in a male-dominated, physical context, one that spoils her smoother, paler complexion with tan and leather, is indicative of the woman’s immediate backstory.
Likely having been sexually promiscuous as a precursor to her agricultural labours (see Songs 1:6), the Shulamite woman has seemingly accepted, with humility, her sentence under the beating Israeli sun. There is an ugliness and resignation to the scene that’s as evident as Donald Trump’s counterfeit tan.
The Shulamite woman initially seems to have fallen prey to our curse from Genesis with her hypersensitivity to her outward appearance (Dark am I…). But her next two words – yet lovely – represent the infinite difference between heaven and hades, between grace and law, between Jesus and Satan.
Dark am I yet lovely is the Shulmaite’s breathtaking revelation and declaration of romantic, holy faith that, though outwardly she is exceedingly ugly (physically, culturally, spiritually – remember we’re reading allegorically) – inwardly she has been set free into wide open vistas of grace and forgiveness and spiritual adoption, as portrayed by King Solomon’s churning heart toward her.
And God’s heart towards us.
God’s Heart Toward Us
Therefore, this is why Songs 1:5 is so critically important, not just for the unfolding of this specific book, but for the grandeur of the whole spectrum of Scripture and the gospel of grace as we read, believe and are sanctified – progressively.
Yes! It’s the key of understanding the yet lovely of this verse that will transform you like nothing else. His affections and love, His churning, ferocious, unbridled love for you and me, regardless of what we look like now, is what transforms us into the image of Christ.
We are altogether lovely to Jesus despite the ugliness and sinfulness of our hearts. Despite our lukewarmness and the infancy of our reach to wholeheartedness, Jesus is obsessed with us!
We are his favourites.
This is Brennan Manning’s furious longing of God.
Rather than wishy-washy sentimentality or vague spiritual conviction, this is the beating, volcanic heart of our new Adamic nature in Christ. This is the miraculous shift from external appearances to internal realities, from the impossible minutiae of law-keeping to the new morning mercies of grace.
As Paul puts it in 2 Corinthians 4:16, (emphasis mine)
So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day
And as Peter puts it in 1 Peter 1:23, (emphasis mine)
Since you have been born again, not of perishable seed (external) but of imperishable (internal), through the living and abiding word of God;
As if this wasn’t enough, there is more! This is why we have this series on Song of Solomon simmering on the hob for the next few weeks.
The gospel microcosm this week of Songs 1:5 is like the moment you got saved: heady, intoxicating, heart–churning joy! Like when John Newton famously passed from blindness to sight.
But ahead in this book for us are such revelations, heights, depths and breadths of the heart of God for us as his Bride, (as individuals and as His corporate Body) that, as we see in the overview chart above, will lead us on into maturity in love.
Indeed, the maturing marriage of the Bridegroom and the bride is where we’re going, but there are other glories and vistas and ranges to take in first.