As with any well-written narrative, whether in the Bible, fictional, or factual from our life on earth, there is always great excitement and great disappointment. Some have called these exciting and disappointing experiences the valleys of hardship and the mountains of exceeding joy. This narrative reality we have defined is nothing different from that which is taking place in the life of the Shulamite and her Beloved. It’s through many valleys and mountains that she will finally enter into the fullness of her destiny at the close of Chapter 8. The close of Song of Songs chapter 2, which I have covered in the previous chapter, ends with a separation (valley) between the Shulamite and her Beloved as she refuses to go with Him up into the mountains. But the experience of their separation (valley) isn’t fully realized until the start of Song of Songs chapter 3, when she comes to understand that He really moved on. This is the topic of discussion for this chapter. As we look at Chapter 8, I am going to cover 3 things: the divine correction and withdrawal of His presence from her heart; the bride’s earnest search for her Beloved; and the bride’s plea to the daughters of Jerusalem. As I have already mentioned about valleys and mountains, this Chapter is a perfect mixture of these two realties, as she has lost His presence, she will also find Him within this very chapter.
Divine Correction and the Withdrawal of His Presence (Song of Songs 3:1)
It’s here at the start of Song of Songs chapter 3 and verse 1 that the bride is on her bed and missing the manifest presence of her Beloved. The verse reads like this; “By night on my bed I sought the one I love; I sought Him but I did not find Him.” As I have already mentioned this is the verse that follows Song of Songs 2:17, where she refuses to respond to His call to arise from the chamber and start ascending the mountains with Him. In SOS 2:17 she tells Him, “No.” And it’s here in SOS 3:1 that we can see the effects of her unwise request for Him to move on without her because she was staying and not going with Him. It’s clear from this verse that He has indeed moved on and she is no longer feeling His manifest presence. The bride is currently under the discipline of God for her lack of obedience to His voice. He has asked her to rise up and come away with Him (SOS 2:10-14).
When the bride, out of fear, responded to His request to come away with Him by saying no, she had no idea what the implications of His actually moving on would be. There are times in our lives when our fears, sins and lack of understanding actually enable us to answer in an unwise way to Him who knows all things. These subtle things in our lives cause us to back out of 100% obedience. But because the Lord is relentless in the personal development of His bride becoming fully mature, He disciplines us in order to empower us. The bride assumed that things would stay the same when she said no, but that was a false reality. Jesus is not nearly as concerned about our comfort as He is our holiness. This is why He often leads us in such a way that our lives become very uncomfortable for the purpose of bringing forth a mature lover that is holy even as He is holy.
Because of her lack of obedience to His request, He has withdrawn His manifest presence from her heart in a form of divine discipline. Although the bride doesn’t realize right now that divine correction/discipline isn’t the same thing as divine rejection, she will in due time. This is often a much different story when we are dealing with humans. When man corrects us, most of the time they are also rejecting us. This happens because although we are like God in some ways, we are totally other than Him in many other ways. He possesses the ability in His nature to correct us while not rejecting us. God is capable of being angry with humans, while deeply loving them at the very same time. Like I have already said, this isn’t true for most humans. Many of you have felt the deep rejection from others while they were correcting/disciplining you. It’s dangerous for us to relate to God in the same way that we relate to humans. It doesn’t matter how good or how bad your earthly father is, God is totally unlike them. The powerful truth about this reality is that it puts all of us on the same page when we come before God. Some fathers have done a better job displaying the love of the Father, but either way, all good fathers and all bad fathers fall terribly short of our Heavenly Father.
God’s correction of us is actually His acceptance of us (Hebrews 12:3-11). That passage in Hebrews tells us that if we don’t endure the chastening of the Lord, then God doesn’t deal with us as sons. One translation uses the word “bastard.” What’s meant by that word is that, if we don’t allow God to chasten us, then we aren’t called the sons of God and we are children without a heavenly Father because everyone that God loves He corrects. The bride is in the place of divine correction here in SOS 3:1 it’s not because He hates her and is excited about punishing her. He’s doing this because He loves her and He wants her with Him where He is. She has rough edges in her heart that must be worked through, and this is exactly what He’s doing.
It’s critical for us to also understand that when God has removed His manifest presence from her heart, it’s not the same thing as God leaving her in the permanent sense. There is a difference between God’s manifest presence and His omnipotence. God’s manifest presence is that discernible/felt presence of God upon our hearts that we feel when God comes near us. And His omnipresence is the reality that God will never leave us nor forsake us. As a fellow Christian I have lost the manifest presence of the Lord in my life many times, and it’s in those times that I often feel as if God has permanently left me. This is a lie that both our un-renewed souls and the devil work to reinforce during these seasons when the Lord’s manifest presence isn’t near. We must fight to resist this lie because it erodes the reality of God’s leadership over our lives. God has promised many times within His Word that He would never leave us nor forsake us and that means that He is with us always, even if we don’t feel Him. So, even though the bride can’t currently feel Him, as she did just a few verses ago, it doesn’t mean that He has abandoned her. Remember, God has pledged Himself both to her and to us in such a way that He will wait always for us. These seasons of losing His manifest presence should force us to get up and start moving towards Him in a diligent search, which is exactly what the Shulamite does.
The Bride’s Earnest Search for Her Beloved (Song of Songs 3:2-4)
It’s here on her bed, as she lost His manifest presence that she rises up and starts making forward progress to find Him. When she realizes that He has really moved on, it forces her to get up and start looking for Him. God has given you freewill and He refuses to violate it. The reason He doesn’t violate our freewill is because He loves the sincerity of our devotion to Him when it’s voluntary. God only extends an invitation to us and it’s up to us if we respond to Him or not. But, God also knows how to get us moving without violating our freewill and He loves to do it. This is exactly what He is doing with her right now in Song of Songs chapter 3. You read in Song of Songs 2:5 where the young maturing bride said that she was lovesick. Well this wasn’t just a cute phrase that she uttered because she had nothing else to say. This was her true experience as He was touching her heart in a deep way. His great love for her had awakened deep passion in her for the enjoyment of His presence. So when she refuses to go with Him to the mountains, what does He do to get her to rise up off her bed and start moving towards Him? He removes His manifest presence from her heart.
In Song of Songs 3:2-4 this is what she says and does, “I will rise now, I said and go about the city; in the streets and in the squares I will seek the one I love. I sought Him but I didn’t find Him. The watchmen who go about the city found me; I said, have you seen the One I love? Scarcely had I passed by them, when I found the One I love. I held Him and wouldn’t let Him go, until I had brought Him into the house of my mother, and into the chamber of her who conceived me.” The bride is in a place of missing that manifest presence that she had come to love and enjoy and it’s this missing that’s causing her to get up off her bed and go after Him. Sadly the case for many of us, when we are in the same place as the young maturing bride, instead of responding to the withdrawing of God’s presence by getting up and searching Him out we rather stay in bed and move away from the Lord. Thank God this wasn’t the story for the young bride, because it gives us hope in our time of discipline from the Lord that we shouldn’t stay where we are in separation from Him, but we should get up, like her, and start searching.
When looking at these 3 verses (SOS 3:2-4) I see 4 powerful truths that about seeking God. Firstly, it’s in her place of disobedience that she starts seeking for Him (SOS 3:1). It wasn’t on her bed that He wanted her to be, but in the mountain. Because she said no to Him, she’s now on her bed alone, without His presence. But this doesn’t stop her from seeking. Even in the place of her compromise and disobedience she starts looking for Him. So often when we are in the same place as her, instead of rising up and searching for Him, we give in to shame and guilt and throw in the towel. Her story gives us great hope that we too, in our sin and disobedience to God, should get up, and start seeking. Secondly, though she is seeking Him, she doesn’t find Him right away (SOS 3:1-3). There are times in our relationship with Jesus that though we have lost His manifest presence on our heart and we are seeking Him diligently, we don’t find Him right away. This is her story. She’s up off her bed and starting to look for Him. Even though she doesn’t find Him, we can tell by her earnest seeking that she’s not going to give up. She is embodying Matthew 7:7-8 which says “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek and you will find, knock and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds and to him who knocks it will be opened.” She has taken to heart that He is good, He loves her, and He hasn’t abandoned her forever. This resolve is going to empower to keep pressing on through negative results.
Thirdly, she passes others by in her search for Him (SOS 3:4). She reaches out to the watchmen who represent the Shepherds of her day or Pastors and leaders in the body of Christ for our day. She sees them in her searching and talks to them, asking if they had seen her Beloved. Her asking is showing her humility in searching for Him. She’s not afraid to ask anyone for help, or for anyone to point her in the right direction. But she doesn’t stop there with their response. She’s not satisfied serving Him at a distance, she wants to see Him and be with Him. She rightly understands that nobody else can do her seeking for her. She must do it herself. And fourthly, she eventually finds Him (SOS 3:4). It’s more common than not for us to give up in our searching for our Beloved, but not for the bride. She doesn’t stop short of finding Him who her soul loves. She pressed past the many things that stood in her way, including her own disobedience, and others who couldn’t help her find Him. All seeking of God will lead to finding God. This must be the posture of our hearts as we set out to find Him. Though He’s not close, He’s not far.
The bride’s seeking of God isn’t to find the Jesus of anointed ministry, or the Lord of healing and prosperity, but rather the One whom her soul loved. She was looking for the Lover of her soul, not the God who would do something for her. We love all facets of God whether it’s the facet of His hand or the facet of His face, we love them all. But beyond everything else He does, we love God because of who He is not because of what He does. To have God is to have all things, but it’s the kisses of His word that we love the most (SOS 1:2). In just 4 verses she says 4 times “…the One I love…the One I love…the One I love…the One I love…(SOS 3:1-4).” When we have touched the presence and Person of Christ Jesus, to only desire the other things that His hands provide for us would be unthinkable. I believe that many of us seek for the things His hands give us because we haven’t come to know His face and His heart. To see His face would mean that you couldn’t live without. It seems that many in the Church today could live without God’s face and His heart if they could continue receiving from His hand. Beloved, it’s okay to receive from His hand. In fact we can’t do what He has asked us to do without receiving from His hand, but better than His hand is His wide-open and wonderful heart. His compassion for us, His tenderness towards us and His awesome glory that causes us to tremble are truly the best parts of the Godhead.
Someone once said, “Good resolution isn’t a pillow to sleep on; but a horse which we should instantly mount.” Now that I have served in Church leadership for about 8 years in a full-time capacity I have heard lots of people talk about one day having a deep life in God. But it seems that for many, if not most, that day never comes. It’s a day that’s always around the next corner, always around the next season of life or after another new year’s resolution. Beloved, that quote is powerful and oh so true. Don’t sleep on the pillow of resolution, but rather get out of bed, put on the whole armor of God and start searching for your Beloved. You will surely find Him if you only get up and start searching. But if you stay where you are, if you stay sitting in guilt, shame and condemnation you will never rise up to see Him again. That day of a deep life in God will never come. In fact the only way to ensure that one day I have a deep life in God, is to make a conscious decision second by second, minute-by-minute, hour by hour, day by day and year by year. If I do that, it will ensure that one day my heart will be fully alive in Christ.
The Bride’s Plea to the Daughters of Jerusalem (SOS 3:5)
Personally in this portion of the Song of Songs I love how God allows Himself to be found by the searching bride. In all reality, she isn’t supposed to be in the streets and public squares or on her bed, but on the mountains. But God in His vast mercy knows that we can only endure so much separation from His manifest presence and He allows Himself to be found by her. Who really found whom? Did she find God, or did God allow Himself to be found (Let the reader decide). Either way, she is now reunited with Him at her mother’s house (Church), and she is holding Him ever so tightly to make sure that she doesn’t lose Him again. But again I ask who’s holding who? It’s here that the bride has a sober word to share with the daughters of Jerusalem. By way of reminder, the daughters of Jerusalem in the Song of Songs represent the lukewarm believers within the body of Christ who have said yes to Jesus, but haven’t committed to love Him in the way that He has loved them. In Song of Songs 3:5 she calls out to them and says “I charge you daughters of Jerusalem, by the gazelles or by the does of the field, do not stir up nor awaken love until it pleases.” There are several interpretations of this short phrase, and it’s my belief that it’s the Shulamite speaking to them. The bride is calling out to the daughters who are standing on the perimeter of loving God and watching her but not entering in themselves. She is in essence saying to them “make sure you are ready to respond to the love that He will awaken in you. This isn’t a fire to play around with, because it will fully consume your life and cause you do many things to satisfy the love that He will awaken.” It’s here that the bride is starting to understand how much she loves Him and that she was willing to join herself fully to Him in order to experience Him in fullness.
Loving God wholeheartedly will cost you everything. When love from God is awakened internally, brace yourself, because it’s going to be a wild ride. It will cause you to change your priorities, how you spend your money, how you treat others, what you love and what you hate, and where you aim your life for the future. It’s not just one thing that the love of God will touch, but it will rather consume all things without burning it up. Jesus isn’t like a fire, beloved; He’s an all-consuming fire. It would be better to have never awakened love, then to have awakened it and then to turn away from it, or refuse to satisfy it. If you awaken this love for God internally, be ready to satisfy it.