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Chapter 1 Verse 5

I am black, but comely; O ye daughters of Jerusalem,
as the tents of Kedar, as the curtains of Solomon.


first wordchurch in the preceding verses had directed her speech to Christ, where we have observed the request she makes, and the success of it, and also the comfortable and grateful frame of Spirit produced by it: here she turns herself to “the daughters of Jerusalem,” and gives an account of her person and state, and delivers her mind to them in this and the following verse. Wherein may be considered,

I.The persons she speaks to, “the daughters of Jerusalem.”

II.The character which she gives of her herself.

III.The reason of her so doing.

I.The persons she speaks to, are “the daughters of Jerusalem:” and seeing these are frequently mentioned in this Song, it will be necessary to consider who are meant by them. R. Sol. Jarchi would have them to be the Gentiles, who, he says, are so called, because Jerusalem shall be the metropolis of all nations, according to Ezekiel 16:61. “I will give them unto thee for daughters;” and that they are, in the same sense, “the daughters of Jerusalem,” as the towns of Ekron are called in Joshua 15:45. “the daughters of Ekron; but it is much better to understand them of particular churches, of which, “Jerusalem that is above,” or that “general assembly, and church of the first-born, whose names are written in heaven,” is the mother; though I rather think, young converts are intended by them, who, perhaps, had not as yet joined themselves to the church, though they had a very great respect for her, as is manifest from chapter 5:9 they seem to be very weak, and their knowledge of Christ but small, yet desirous of knowing him and seeking him with her. (See chapters 5:8 and 6:1) And it is very evident, that not only the church, but Christ also, had a very great respect for them, from chapter 3:9, 10, 11. They were her friends and companions, distinct from mother’s children, mentioned in the following verse, and were far from being enemies either to Christ or his church.

II.To these persons she gives a character of herself.

1st, She makes a concession that she was black.

2dly, Notwithstanding asserts that she is comely. And,

3dly, Uses some similes to express both by, “as the tents of Kedar, the curtains of Solomon.”

1st, She ingenuously and frankly acknowledges that she was black. This is not to be understood literally of Pharaoh’s daughter, whom Solomon had married; and whose mother, Grotius conjectures, might be an Arabian, and so these words be expressive of her natural complexion; but this is not intended, nor, perhaps, is there so much as an allusion to it; but rather to a shepherdess, or keeper of vineyards, made black by lying in the fields, as the following verse seems to intimate. The Targum applies it to the people of Israel, when they made the calf, and says, that then “their faces became as black as the Ethiopians, that dwell in the tents of Kedar; but when they returned, by repentance, and were forgiven, the brightness of the glory of their countenances was increased, as the angels:” but the words are expressive of the spiritual estate and complexion of the church of Christ, and of all believers in him; who may be said to be black, and comely; black by sin, comely by grace:6060Nigra per naturam, formosa per gratiam, Aug. de Tempore, Serm. 201, p. 354. tom. 10. Fuses per culpam, decora per gratiam, Ambros. In Psalm 118. octon. col. 881. tom. 2. Black,

1. Upon the account of the many spots, blemishes, and infirmities; for though they are fair and spotless, as considered in Christ, yet they are black and full of spots, as considered in themselves; sin dwells in them and they are sometimes overcome, and carried captive by it; it is always present with them; this body of sin and death, they carry about as their burden; neither will they be rid of it in this life; for “if we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us”; the most holy and righteous man on earth is not without it; every one is both disturbed and defiled with it, and therefore in this sense may be said to be black; and so the6161R. Sol. Jarchi and R. Aben Ezra, in loc. Jewish doctors expound it, of the sinful actions and evil works of the congregation of Israel.

2. The church of Christ may be said to be black, oftentimes on the account of those swarms of hypocrites and heretics that appear in it; there have always been more or less of them in the church, in all ages, which have been “spots in their feasts of charity.” There was a Cain in Adam’s family, a Ham in Noah’s, an Ishmael in Abraham’s, an Esau in Isaac’s, and a Judas among Christ’s disciples; these goats have always been among Christ’s sheep, these tares grow up among his wheat, and will do so, till he shall divide the sheep from the goats, and take his fan in his hand, and thoroughly purge his floor. Now upon the account of these, and the several heresies, schisms, and divisions, which frequently arise, and are made in the church of Christ, she may be said to be black: And also,

3. By reason of the persecutions and reproaches of the world, which the church of Christ, and all believers in him sustain; for they that “will live godly in Christ Jesus must suffer persecution” of one kind or another; if not confiscation of goods, fines, imprisonments, racks, tortures, yea death itself, which in some ages of the world, have been the lot of God’s children, yet, at least, loss of their good name, credit, and reputation; for if they are loved by Christ, they must expect to be hated by men; if they have peace in him, in the world they must have tribulation; they may be sure of being vilified by the world, and backbited and reproached by carnal professors; and this is what the church seems to ascribe her blackness to, in the following verse. So in Zohar,6262In Exodus fol. 6. 1. and in Leviticus fol 25. 1. this blackness is, by the Jews, expounded of the captivity of the people of Israel.

4. She may be said to be black, with sorrow and mourning; black color not only being the habit of mourners, but does also, in scripture, express grief and sorrow itself. See Jeremiah 8:21 and Jeremiah 14:2. The sins and corruptions of God’s people, oftentimes put them in this mourning habit; as David says, when he was under a sense of his manifold iniquities, “I go mourning all the day long,” (Ps. 38:6) or nearer the Hebrew, “I go in black all the day long;”6363ytblh ddq atratus pergo, Jun. the coldness, hypocrisy, and formality of professors, give them much uneasiness: the many errors and heresies among them, and the persecutions and reproaches, both of the world and carnal professors, produce this black hue and mournful color.

5. They are black in the eyes of the world, which indeed is no wonder; for the men of the world see no beauty nor comeliness in Christ himself, and therefore not any in his people; they being, in their eyes, mean, abject, and contemptible, despised by them, and accounted as the refuse and “off-scouring of all things.” But notwithstanding all this she could say,

2dly, That she was comely, that is, beautiful and desireable,6464hwag optabilis, Pagninus, Montanus, Tig. Verf. Mercer. So Aben Ezra. having graceful features, and a just symmetry and proportion. Now the church, and every believer in Christ, may be said to be comely.

1. By the imputation of Christ’s righteousness, whereby they are justified from all sin, and stand spotless and irreprovable in God’s sight; their own righteousness is as filthy rags, and rather detracts from, than adds to their comeliness; but Christ’s righteousness being that “fine linen, clean, and white,” with which being arrayed, they are “adorned as a bride for her husband,” they appear perfectly comely through the comeliness which Christ has put upon them; they are no ways comely in themselves, but in Christ they are a perfection of beauty.

2. By the sanctifying grace of the Spirit, whereby they are made new creatures; Christ is formed in their hearts, and they are conformed to him, who is the “first born among many brethren;” his image is impressed upon them, and all the parts of the new man are in a just proportion in them, though not grown up to their perfection; and thus being made partakers of the divine nature, and appearing in the beauties of holiness, they are all glorious and comely within.

3. Believers are so in their church-state, having fellowship with Christ, and with one another, walking together in, and according to the commands and ordinances of Christ Jesus: a church of Christ, in gospel order, is beautiful for situation; all her tabernacles are amiable and lovely; and enjoying the presence of Christ in them, is “beautiful as Tirzah, comely as Jerusalem, and terrible as an army with banners.” O how comely are the saints in their goings in Zion! a more lovely sight than this can scarce be seen; they are then like a “company of horses in Pharaoh’s chariots.”

4. However black believers may be in the eyes of the world, they are certainly comely in the eyes of Christ; who often, in this song, calls his church his “fair one,” and “the fairest among women;” however undesirable she was to others, she was very desirable to him; her eyes, cheeks, lips, teeth, head, hair, neck, etc. are commended and praised by him; so much beauty and comeliness appeared in her, that his heart was even ravished with her; and so long as he thinks her comely, it matters not what opinion others entertain of her.

3dly, She makes use of some similes to express both her blackness and her comeliness, “as the tents of Kedar, as the curtains of Solomon.” Some think6565Mercer. in loc. that these refer to both parts of her character; and suppose that the tents of Kedar, though they were mean and abject without, yet were full of wealth and riches within; and a number of them together made a fine appearance, as Dr. Shaw relates they now do;6666Travels, p. 222. ed. 2. and that Solomon’s curtains or hangings had an outward covering, which was not so rich and valuable as that within; and so are both designed by the church to represent unto us, that though she was mean and abject in the eyes of the world, yet she was rich, glorious, and beautiful within: the outside of a believer is only seen by the world, and they judge of him accordingly; his inside is hid from them, as the riches of Kedar’s tents, and the fineness of Solomon’s curtains were from those who viewed the outside only; though I rather think her blackness is designed by the one, and her comeliness by the other.

1. For her blackness she compares herself to the tents of Kedar. Kedar was the second son of Ishmael (Gen. 24:13), whose posterity dwelt in the deserts of Arabia (Isa. 42:11), and their employment being to feed cattle (Isa. 60:7), they dwelt in tents (Ps. 120:4, 5), which were made of hair-cloth, and that of goats hair; which being always exposed to the sun and rain, were very black, looked very mean and contemptible:6767Vide K. Sol. Jarchi, and R. Aben Ezra in loc. they had no other houses but these; and because they always, dwelt in them, removing and pitching them at pleasure, therefore they were called Scenites.6868Nomadas, insestatoresque Chaldaeorum, Scenitae claudunt, et ipsi vagi, sed a tabernaculis cognominati, quae ciliciis metantur, ubi libuit, Plin. 1. 6. c. 28. Arabes nobiles monte Casio, qui Scenitae causam nominis inde ducunt, quod tentoriis succedunt, nec alias domos habent; ipsa autem tentoria cilicina sunt; its nuncupant velamenta e caprarum pills texta. Solin. Polyhist. c. 46. Now the church compares herself to these mean, black and despicable tents, on the account of the sins and infirmities of herself, the carnality and hypocrisy of others, the many errors and heresies she was vexed with, as well as the persecutions and reproaches of men, which oftentimes oppressed her, as has been already observed.

2. For her comeliness, she compares herself to the curtains of Solomon. The Septuagint read it, wjv derreiv Salwmw>n, as the skins of Solomon; and so the Vulgate Latin likewise; which version Gilbert Foliot6969This Gilbert Foliot was bishop of London, and lived in the 12th century, in the reign of King Henry II. whose Exposition, together with the Compendiun of Alcuin, his countryman were published by Patricius Junius, in 1638. following, in his Exposition of this place, says, it is not to be understood of the skins of sheep, goats, or any other animal, but of the very skin of Solomon himself; who being a rich king, and living deliciously, he supposes was very comely and beautiful; to whose fine skin he thinks the church here compares herself, to set forth her comeliness: but this is much better referred by Alcuin, his countryman, to the skins of slain beasts, of which, he thinks, Solomon made tents for himself; though it seems rather to intend those rich hangings of tapestry, which Solomon had, either about his bed, or in the several apartments of his house; which, no doubt, were very rich, costly, and glorious, he being so great and wealthy a prince: or his garments, as Theodoret, see Matthew 6:29; and therefore the church, on the account of her perfect comeliness, thro” Christ’s righteousness put upon her, and the curious and embroidered work of the Spirit of God in her, as also her walk in gospel-order, compares herself to these curtains or hangings. Moreover, by a metonymy, may be understood, both in this and the preceding comparison, the persons who dwelt in Kedar’s tents, and Solomon’s courtiers, who lived in those apartments of his which were so richly hung; the former being black, and the latter dwelling in the palace of a wealthy king, and faring deliciously, were no doubt, plump and comely: though neither Solomon nor any of his courtiers, could come near the church for beauty and comeliness; and to this sense agrees Junius’s version of the text.7070similis sim, Scenitis Kedarenis, at similis sum inhabitantibus, aulaea Schelomonis. Vide Joseph. Antiq. 1. 8. c. 2. But,

III.Let us now consider the reason of her giving this account of herself to the daughters of Jerusalem: her design seems to be to obviate what might be objected by, and remove whatever might be discouraging in her to the daughters of Jerusalem, those young converts; they might object to her, Thou talkest of being brought into the king’s chambers, and having nearness of access unto him, how can it be, that one so black as thou art, should be taken notice of by so great a person, and have such nearness to him, who appears to be so mean and so unworthy thereof? To this she answers, by granting, that she was black in herself, but yet was comely, through his comeliness; in him she was prepared as a bride adorned for her husband; and it was this that gave her the favor and acceptance she had with him.

Again, It might be objected, How canst thou be cheerful, when thou art so black, loaded with persecutions and afflictions, and hated and despised by all? This she obviates by observing, that the world could not see her inward glory, and therefore passed a wrong judgment upon her; and that the unseen glory, riches, beauty, and perfection in Christ, supported her under all reflections, persecutions, and reproaches.

Also the sins and infirmities which they saw in her, as well as the sufferings she was exposed unto, might stumble those young converts, and be a means to deter them from the ways of Christ, and joining with his church and people; and seeing there was danger of this, therefore she informs them of her beauty as well as of her blackness; of her grace, as welt as of her corruptions; of her glory, as well as of her sufferings; and in doing this, her design is to engage and encourage them to go with her; in all which, she discovers her strength of faith in Christ, and his righteousness, notwithstanding all her sins and sufferings; of which she gives a farther account in the following verse.



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