11th Song: 8:5-7
The Joy and Communion of the Marriage

VoiceNarrative
Companions8:5 Who is this that cometh up from the wilderness, leaning upon her beloved?
Groom8:5 I raised thee up under the apple tree: there thy mother brought thee forth: there she brought thee forth that bare thee.
Bride8:6 Set me as a seal upon thine heart, as a seal upon thine arm: for love is strong as death; jealousy is cruel as the grave: the coals thereof are coals of fire, which hath a most vehement flame.
Groom8:7 Many waters cannot quench love, neither can the floods drown it: if a man would give all the substance of his house for love, it would utterly be contemned.

We left the bride earnestly desiring the groom to accompany her to visit the fields and the villages to inspect the new growth. She concluded the song by reminding the daughters of Jerusalem of the responsibility that love brings. Love now becomes the total focus of this song.

It opens with the companions seeing at a distance a couple coming towards them from the wilderness. This expression is similar to the opening words of the 5th Song in 3:6–4:7. In both, the companions enquire as to the identity of the bride. We have seen that this repetitive structure presents the twofold character of the bride of Christ: Jew and Gentile.

As they are still some way off, the companions do not recognise the bride at first. They notice that she is leaning upon her groom for support. This dependence becomes the subject of the discussion that ensues, which is followed by a further intense dialogue about love. From the words of the groom we note that the bride was raised up by the beloved under the apple tree.

An understanding of what the apple tree represents must be gained from a consideration of its use in this book. Of the six occurrences of the “teppuwach tree,” four of them are found in the Songs. It is the bride who declares (2:3) that her beloved is “as the apple tree” and that she “sat down under his shadow with great delight, and his fruit was sweet to [her] taste”. She desires comfort from the apple and enjoys the smell of it (2:5, 7:8). When praying for Yahweh’s protective care, David, in Psalm 17:8 says: “keep me as the apple (iyshon) of the eye, hide me under the shadow of thy wings”. The apple tree therefore represents the overshadowing care the bride receives from our Lord from birth.

In the discussion, the royal groom reminisces with his bride about the experiences of their courtship. Long before she was conscious of him, he knew of her and had supervised her development. He raised her up under the apple tree. The word “raised” means “to awaken”. It is the same word used in the warning refrain, “stir not up, nor awaken” love until one is ready to accept the commitment that love brings (2:7, 3:5, 8:4). It is at this moment that the beloved reveals to his bride that he was the one that “awakened” her to love (as the ellipsis) from her birth. This foreknowledge and calling was revealed by our Lord to Nathanael: “Before that Philip called thee, when thou wast under the fig tree, I saw thee” (John 1:48).

This amazing revelation of the Lord’s care for the bride since her birth left the bride astounded, as can be seen from her response. “Set me as a seal upon thine heart, as a seal upon thine arm,” she exclaims (8:6). She desires her beloved to always remember her in his heart and to always sustain her by his arm. Following their discussion, the bride’s desire is to be forever in his thoughts, his emotions and the object of his intentions. What evoked that reaction?

Have you ever thought what it will be like when, in the presence of our Lord, he will recount those moments in our lives when the spirit intervened to preserve us from harm—either the harm from others or the harm we may have thought to bring upon ourselves—when his love and care was demonstrated in a practical way through his angels? This love is that which comes as a result of placing our trust under his wings. It is a love that is demonstrated when: we thought to do one thing but He intervened and, through seemingly natural circumstances, saved us from ourselves; when we were overwhelmed by worry but as the day progressed we found that our concerns were without foundations and evaporated.

How telling that moment will be when our ignorance will turn into awe at the perseverance, patience, grace and lovingkindness that has been our lot. We will come to realise the frequency of those seemingly natural events and appreciate that they were actions of a loving heavenly Father, determined to save us (Psa 50:21). We will see our failures, our stubbornness, our wickedness and how unloving, unappreciative and unlovable we all too often were. This will be one of the most poignant moments in our lives and will cause us to want to be indelibly impressed as a seal upon his heart.

It is not until then that we will fully appreciate why the bride goes into raptures about love. Chapter 8:6-7 bring to a climax both the bride’s and the groom’s description of love. Extreme expressions are used to bring a climactic end to this little book. Love and jealousy are set against death and the grave. Death and the grave are obviously synonyms. Love and jealousy are related emotions. We tend to categorise jealousy as an evil emotion, which it can be, but when we recognise that it is a characteristic of the Father, it is not always so: “Yahweh is a jealous God” (Exod 20:5, 34:14; Deut 4:24, 5:9, 6:15). Jealousy is the passion of love. In the Hebrew the word speaks of ardour or zeal; of driven love. Speaking of our Lord, Psalm 69:9 states: “The zeal [same word] of thine house hath eaten me up”. It stands in contrast to a passive love. Yahweh’s love is active, even to raising the dead from the grave. What greater expression is there of God’s active love than that described in Romans 8:31-39: “…For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life…nor any other creature shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord”.

The bride likens love to “coals of fire, which hath a most vehement flame”. This is better rendered by the ASV: “the ashes thereof are ashes of fire, a very flame of Yahweh”. Or as rendered by Rotherham: “the flames thereof are flames of fire, the ash of Yah”. Rotherham has a footnote: “these loving flames kindled in the human heart emanate from Yahweh”. The anxiety on the part of the Sopherim [the Jewish revisers] not to describe Yahweh as the source of human love…has caused Western redactors [editors] to the text to obliterate the name of God in the only place where the Divine Name occurs in this book”.

Those flashes of fire are revealed in the multitudinous groom as he comes from the wilderness of Teman as the “burning coals” by which he judges the nations in Habakkuk 3:3-5. These are the “lightnings and thunderings” of Revelation 4:5, which proceed from the throne of the King in glory. The Lord shall return “as lightning” coming from the east to the west, lighting up the whole heaven (Matt 24:27) and raising the dead to change our mortal bodies in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye. Indeed, our Lord’s love for us is stronger than death.

In continuing this breathtaking discourse on love, the couple resort to hyperbole. The groom responds with the expression that “many waters cannot quench love; neither can the floods drown it”. Their experience is such that they conclude this song with the words, “if a man would give all the substance of his house for love, it would utterly be contemned” or “despised”. The RSV renders this as “if a man offered for love all the wealth of his house, it would be utterly scorned”. This expression is similar to the words of Balaam to Balak: “If Balak would give me his house full of silver and gold, I cannot go beyond the word of Yahweh my God” (Num 22:18). Love cannot be measured in material terms. When Mary poured ointment upon her Lord, she didn’t take into account the monetary value like Judas did. Her act was an expression of her love for her Lord, a love that had no rationale in material logic.

The bride expresses her understanding of the power of love and jealousy: two godly emotions that have more power than the greatest force in human experience—death and the finality of the grave. They are emotions likened to coals of fire, emotions kindled by the fire of the Word of God.

The song concludes with the groom affirming that love is age abiding; nothing can quench it, not even a flood. Neither can it be bought with unlimited wealth. “Love never fails. Now abideth faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love” (1 Cor 13:13).

(to be continued)