Friday, September 21, 2012

The Rose of Sharon and Lily of the Valley

If you have spent much time in church you have probably sung some songs with lyrics like these:

“He leads me to his banqueting table, his banner over me is love…
Jesus is the rock of my salvation, his banner over me is love.”

“Sweetest rose of Sharon, come to set us free.”

“He’s the lily of the valley, the bright and morning star…”

But are those songs biblical? They come out of the writings of the Song of Solomon, but are we to understand those lines as describing Christ?

The Song of Solomon is a collection of love poems that were written between two people who were deeply in love and about to be married. While we know that King Solomon is one of the writers, the other’s name has escaped us, and we know her today simply as the Shulamite woman.

Some people believe that since this woman is not named then she never existed; some teach that this book is pure allegory, only existing to serve as symbolism. King Solomon, they say, represents Jesus as the Bridegroom, and this unnamed woman represents the church at large.

Others believe that the Shulamite was a real person, but that this collection of their writings to each other is included in the canon simply for the benefit of the aforementioned allegory.

But when it comes to interpreting the Bible, any allegory or typology can only be preached dogmatically if the Bible presents it as such, and when it comes to this Song of Songs, the Bible does not present it as allegory. It is, in fact, simply a collection of love poems.

With that said, if there is imagery of Christ, like an object lesson, than it is still appropriate as a secondary application. Take, for example, the verse that says of Solomon, “his banner over me is love.” This can be said of Christ only because the Bible makes this claim about him. In Psalm 60:4-5 we read “You have set up a banner for those who fear you, that they may flee from the bow. That your loved ones may be delivered, give salvation by your right hand…” So the verses from Song of Solomon can serve as a secondary interpretation (in these times banners were very common sights in times of war).

What, then, is the primary interpretation of Song of Solomon? It is a literal set of writings that show the beautiful love that a husband and wife should have for each other. Verses like 2:16 and 6:3 say, “My beloved is mine and I am his.” This book is the clearest picture of someone living out the command from the Garden of Eden, that the two should become one flesh.

Is it still fair to make references to Jesus as the lily of the valley and the rose of Sharon? Not really.

Remember, in this allegory Jesus has to be represented by the King (as the Bridegroom) and the church, the Bride, has to be represented by the Shulamite woman. Did Solomon say that he was the lily of the valley, or did the woman say those things about him? No, she said them about herself.

“I am a rose of Sharon, a lily of the valley…he brought me to his banqueting table, his banner over me is love (2:1,4).” As you can see, it is not fair to apply all of what she said to Solomon (and likewise God); she said half of it about herself, and the other half about him.

So what do we do with these lyrics? If we are staying with the imagery, then the church is the rose of Sharon and the lily of the valley.

Sharon was an actual place that, in the days of Solomon, boasted large fields of beautiful flowers, and the rose has long been thought of as the symbol of the perfect flower. Therefore, to be the rose of Sharon would mean that she was the most beautiful among all the others.

The same can be said of the lily of the valley. The lily is one of the largest flowers, and is considered by many to represent femininity.

This might start to sound like the Shulamite is bragging about herself and her beauty, but she is not. She is enamored by the thought that out of all the women in the kingdom (and frankly, all the women in his harem) Solomon has chosen her and found her to be the most beautiful.

So perhaps there is an object lesson about Christ after all. In His sovereignty God has called us—the church—to be His beautiful Bride. To Jesus, we are the lily of the valley, the rose of Sharon. We can now say with the Shulamite woman, “My beloved is mine, and I am His.” 


Jesse Fleming said...

Those are some of my favorite songs and one of the books of the Bible about love(pure love) that we need to understand. Thanks for the insight!

Tommy Mann said...

Thanks Jesse. I agree; I grew up singing those songs but I was always made to believe that the Bible said those things about Jesus. I don't remember anyone ever teaching me what lily of the valley meant though.

Jesse Fleming said...

Yea I have always wondered too. Bright and Morning Star is easy (North Star literal, Christ's light within us image). If I remember correctly, been a while since I've seen the passage, that Jesus is the Rose Of Sharon which I would expect to be the valley?

Tommy Mann said...

Not exactly. The Bible never actually calls Jesus the Rose of Sharon or the lily of the valley, so any comparisons we make are extra biblical. That is not necessarily wrong, as long as they are comparisons that the Bible makes elsewhere.

The rose and lily were things the Shulamite woman said of herself, so the allegorical nature of the Writings would allow those comparisons to be made of the church as well--meaning that we are the rose and lily. This speaks of the affection that our Bridegroom (Jesus) has for us. It would be like saying today, "I am the apple of His eye."

Jesse Fleming said...

O ok. Thanks for helping clear that up for me!

Tommy Mann said...

lol, My pleasure