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Chapter 2 Verse 1
I am the rose of Sharon; and the lily of the valleys.
begins a new colloquy between Christ and his church, in which they alternately set forth the praises and excellencies of each other, discover the strength of their mutual affection, and express the delight and pleasure they take in each other’s company: but who begins this colloquy is not so easily determined. What is here said, may he applied either to Christ or to the church; and therefore I shall consider the words in both senses.
First, The words may be considered, as the words of the church, expressing the excellency of her grace, loveliness, and beauty, which she had received from Christ; and at the same time intimating her being exposed in the open field and low rallies to many dangers and enemies; and therefore tacitly desires his protection over her, which he seems to promise in verse 2. That these are the words of the church, seems to be the general opinion of the Jewish doctors,195195Targum, R. Aben Ezra, and Yalkut in loc. so it is interpreted of malcuth or the bride, by the Cabalistic Doctors, in Lexic. Cab. p. 333. and in Zohar. in Leviticus fol. 46. 2. and is also embraced by some Christian interpreters.196196 Tres Patres, Lyra, Ainsworth, Brightman, Vatablus, Cocceius Michaelis. And,
1st, The church may be compared to “the rose,” 1. For beauty; it is called the beautiful flower197197Tres Patres, Lyra, Ainsworth, Brightman, Vatablus, Cocceius Michaelis. its color is beautiful and delightful: the figure is exceeding just; nothing is more common in poems of this kind, than to set forth the beauty of women by the rose; such as Hero,198198To rodon kalon esi, Theocrit. Idyll 24. Rodhv te kalon anqov, Antilochus apud Athen. Deipnosophist. 1. 2. c. 12. Vid. 1. 15. c 3. P. 670. Aspasia,199199Museus de Hero. 5:59. Vid Barth. Animadv. ad Claudian de nupt Honor. 5:247. and others; some have had the name of Rhoda from hence; and Helena for her beauty was called Podocrwv.200200AElian. Vat. Hist.1. 12. c. 1. The church may be fitly compared to it; no “rose of Sharon” can be more beautiful in color, and delightful to the eye, than the church is in the eyes of Christ; as she is clothed with his pure and spotless righteousness, adorned with the graces of his Spirit, and standing at his right-hand in cloth of gold, bespangled with the sparkling gems of divine grace; her beauty is desirable to him, she being in his eye “the fairest among women.” 2. For its sweet odor;201201Theocrit. Idyll. 18. the church and all believers are as the fragrant and sweet-smelling rose; their persons are so as considered in Christ; and all their graces, especially when in exercise; and all their duties and services, when performed in faith, and perfumed with Christ’s mediation (see chapter 4:10, Phil. 4:18; Revelation 5:8, 8:3, 4). 3. For its delight in sunny places;202202The rose by the Arcadians was called enomfalon, that is, sweet-smelling, Timach ides apud Athenaei Deiphosophiat. 1. 15. c. 8. p. 682. it thrives and flourishes the best there, and has the most fragrant smell: Christ is “the sun of righteousness,” under whose warming, comforting and refreshing beams, believers delight to be, and under which their souls grow, thrive, blossom exceedingly, and bring forth much fruit. 4. For its blossoming and flourishing, “the desert shall rejoice and blossom as the rose;” the church may be said to do so, when there is a large increase of members, and these much in the exercise of grace, and “fruitful in every good work;” then may the church be said to be as the blossoming rose.
2dly, She may be compared to the “lily of the rallies:” some women have their name from the lily, as Susanna; and so Sysigambis is the name of the mother of Darius203203Rosa locis apricis gaudet, estque odoratior, Junius in loc. which signifies the white lily204204Curtins, Hift.1. 3. c. 3. Hiller. Onomaftic. p. 632. to which for beauty women are sometimes compared; and with propriety enough may the.155 church be called a lily.205205Lilia non domina fuit magis alba mea, Propertius, I. 2. so Venus is compared to a lily by Anacreon..382 She is compared to the “lily among thorns” in the next verse, and saints are frequently compared to lilies in this Song. And, 1. She may be likened to a lily for the glory, beauty and sweet odor of it. Christ says (Matthew 6:29), of the lilies of the field, that “Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these;” and for the same reasons that she is compared to the beautiful and sweet smelling rose, is she likewise to the lily; which Pliny206206So the lily is interpreted of Malcuth, the bride, the church, by the Cabalists, Lexic. Cab. p. 708, 709. says, rosae nobilitate proximum est, “is next in nobleness and excellency to the rose.” 2. For its whiteness; there are various sorts of lilies, and they are of different colors; some are of red and purple colors, others are white; and it seems to be the white lily which is intended here, for this seems best to express her beauty; for the red rose and the white lily make her look somewhat like her beloved, “white and ruddy,” a perfect beauty; and of the white lily, Pliny207207Lib. 21:c. 5. says, candor ejus eximius, that “its whiteness is singularly excellent; the church, and all believers in Christ, are very aptly resembled by the white lily, who are clothed with “fine linen, clean and white, which is the righteousness of the saints,” wrought out by Christ, imputed by God the Father, and laid hold on by faith; this is so exceeding white, that being arrayed with it, they are all fair, and “there is no spot in them.” 3. For its fruitfulness; Pliny208208Lib. 21:c. 5. Toto candidior puella cycno, argento, nive, lilio, ligustre, Martial1. 1:Lilia tu vincis, 1. 8. c. 28. says, nihil est foecundius, us radice quinquagenos saepe emittente bulbos: “nothing is more fruitful, for oftentimes one root sends forth fifty bulbs:” and as fruitful are believers when the Sun of righteousness shines upon them, and Christ is as the dew unto them; for then “they grow as the lily, and cast forth their roots as Lebanon; their branches spread, and their beauty is as the olive tree.” The church brings forth many souls to Christ; and these bring forth much fruit, to the glory both of him and his father. 4. For its height, for which it is commended: the lily grows very high; Pliny209209Lib. 21. c. 5. says, nec ulli florum excelsitar major, interdiu cubitorum trium; “no flower exceeds it in height; for in the day-time,” (that is, when it erects itself,) “it is three cubits high.” Believers are trees of righteousness; and plants of Christ’s Father’s planting, which do not run along the ground, and cleave to earthly things, but lift up their heads heavenwards, and grow up on high in their desires and affections, having their hearts above, where their treasure is: believers are like the flowers of the lily, open towards heaven, but shut towards the earth. 5. For the weakness of its body, and largeness of its head: Pliny210210Ibid. Lilia fumma merit, Ovid, Fasti, 1. 2. prope finem. says of the lily, languido semper collo et non sufficiente capitis oneri; that it has “a weak neck, or body, which is not sufficient to bear the weight of the head.” Christ is the head of the body, the church, and far greater than that; he is not supported by it, but he supports it: the church’s strength lies in her head, as Samson’s did in his locks; she is weak in herself, but strong in Christ her head, and therefore says, “surely in the Lord have I righteousness and strength.” 6. The church may be compared, not only to a lily, but to “a lily of the valleys:” there is a lily which is called lilium convallium, “the lily of the valleys:” but this seems not so much to intend the distinguishing name of some particular lily, as it does the place where it grows. And, 1. Valleys are low places; and, when the church is called “the lily of the rallies,” it may be expressive of the low estate and condition which she is sometimes in: believers are Christ’s myrtle-trees, and these are sometimes in the bottom, in a low condition; but he grants his presence with them, and the discoveries of his love to them; they are his doves, and they are often “like doves of the rallies, mourning every one for their iniquity, being humbled and, pressed down in their souls under a sense of sin and unworthiness; they are not only humble in themselves, and low in their own eyes, but are often in the deeps of affliction, sorrow, and distress, and out of these depths cry unto the Lord (see Ps. 130:1). 2. Lilies that grow in the rallies are exposed to danger; they are liable to be plucked up by every one that passes by, to be trodden upon, and eaten by the beasts that feed there, and also to be washed away, and destroyed by hasty showers of rain, that run from the hills and mountains down into the valleys with force and violence; so the church of Christ here on earth, in her low estate, is exposed to the rage of her adversaries, to be trodden under the feet, and torn in pieces by the teeth of those bulls of Bashan, that beset her around, and to be carried away by the flood of persecution, which “satan the old serpent casts out of his mouth after her.” Now it is a glorious instance of God’s mighty grace and power in protecting and defending his church, that this lily grows and abides in the rallies, notwithstanding all this danger. 3. Lilies of the rallies have more moisture, verdure, and greenness in them, than those upon the hills and mountains; because the sun has not that power over them, as R. Sol. Jarchi observes, to scorch and dry them up, and therefore are much more beautiful and excellent: so believers, being planted by “rivers of water,” are green, flourishing, and fruitful; whilst others look like “the heath in the desert,” dried and parched up. Christ is to the saints as “rivers of water in a dry place, and as the shadow of a great rock in a weary land;” by the one he refreshes them, and makes them fruitful; and by being the other he shades from that which would scorch them, and make them barren and unfruitful: and thus is the church the “lily of the valleys,” as well as “the rose of Sharon.” And the Targum here renders it, “the rose in the plain of the garden of Eden;” and some interpreters think the rose is meant; and we sometimes read of roses in valleys211211Ut supra. and certain it is there were roses in the vale of Sharon. But,
Secondly, The more commonly received opinion is, that these words are the words of Christ, owning all the glory and praises the church had given him in the former chapter, and setting forth more largely the beauties and excellencies of his person, the more to affect, enamor, and ravish her soul, and make her seek and long for him: and indeed it seems best to understand them of Christ, for self-commendation does not so well agree with the church as with him. What Solomon says (Prov. 27:2), is worth regarding, “let another praise thee, and not thine own mouth; a stranger, and not thine own lips:” though it is lawful for the saints to speak of their glory, beauty, and excellency, as considered in Christ, in order to magnify the riches of his grace, for the instruction and encouragement of others, and in vindication of themselves against the calumnies of the world, and to obviate their mistakes concerning them, as in chapter 1:5, she says, “I am black but comely;” but her chief province and design in this Song appears to be, to set forth his praises, and not her own; and indeed the majesty and agreeableness of the stile with Christ’s language in the New Testament, such as, “I am the door, I am the good shepherd, I am the vine, I am the way, the truth, and the life,” etc. as well as the connection of the words with the following verse, as one well observes,212212Roscis convallibus AEtnae, Claudian. de rapt. proserp. 1. 3. 5:85. manifestly bespeak them to be the words of Christ, who may very well be called,
1st, “The rose of Sharon.” Christ fitly compares himself to a rose, which, as Bishop Patrick observes, is still one of the goodliest things to which a great prince can be likened in those Eastern countries; and gives an instance of it in the great Mogul complimenting one of our kings, as being like a rose in a garden: in the Misnah,213213Durham in loc. mention is made of the king’s lily, or the king’s rose, being the king of flowers, and fit for a King, and an emblem of one; so the men of the great congregation of Ezra are compared to roses, in the Targum of Song of Solomon 7:2 and the ancestors of Melissus the Theban, after many calamities, are compared to the flourishing rose, for the height of honor and power they arrived unto214214Misn. Kilaim, c. 5. f. 8. & Maimon. in lb. Nor is this simile unfitly used by the bridegroom of himself, since it is sometimes given to men by their lovers;”215215Pindar. Isthm. ode 4, and is very properly used in a Song of love, as this is; seeing the rose, as Philostratus calls it, is erwtov futon, the plant of love; and Anacreon calls it to rodon twn erwtwn, the rose of loves: it was sacred to love; the graces are represented, one of them as having a rose, another a myrtle-branch;216216Mea rosa, Plauti 'Asinaria, act. 3. ac. 3. 5:74. Bachides, sc. 1. 5:50. Tu rosa, Curculio, act. 1. sc. 2. 5:6. and a crown of roses was consecrated to the muses;217217Pausan. Elias 2. sive 1. 6. p. 391. all this because of the beauty and loveliness of the plant. And to it Christ may be compared, 1. Because of its red color; which may be expressive of the truth of his humanity, and signify that he is really and truly man. having “taken part of the same flesh and blood,” that his people are partakers of; as also of his bloody sufferings in the same nature, on the account of which he is said to be “red in his apparel:” likewise both these together, the red rose and the white lily, make up that character which is given him, chapter 5:10 that he is “white and ruddy,” a compleat beauty, like the charming lily and blushing rose, “fairer than the children of men.” 2. He may be compared to the rose for its sweet smell, as for the same reason he is in the former chapter to spikenard, myrrh, and camphire; his person, sacrifice, grace and righteousness, have a delightful odor in them; no rose smells so sweet, as Christ does to believers; this Sharon-rose refreshes them, quickens their spiritual senses, and ravishes and delights their souls. 3. The rose is of a cooling nature,218218Sappho spud Plutarch. sympos. 1. 3. P. 641. Theocrat. epigr. 1. 5:1, 2. and therefore useful in burning fevers, inflammations, etc. Christ, by the effusion of his blood, by the oblation of himself, and by his dying in the room and stead of sinners, has appeased and removed his Father’s fierce and burning wrath from them; and it is only an application of this Sharon-rose, the person, blood and righteousness of Christ, which can cool and comfort the conscience of a sinner set on fire, and terrified by the law of God; the discoveries of his love and grace can only remove those dreadful terrors, and fire of divine wrath, which is kindled by a “fiery law,” and cure those inflammations raised thereby. 4. He is called “the Rose of Sharon,” for the excellency of it; the roses which grew there perhaps were the best of any. Sharon is the name of a fruitful plain or country, where herds and flocks were kept, as appears from 1 Chronicles 27:29, Isaiah 35:2, and 65:10; this plain or country lay between Caesarea and Joppa, beginning at Lydda; hence they are joined together (Acts 9:35), and reaching to the Mediterranean sea: hence the Jews in their writings say219219Fernel method, med. 1. 5. c. 3. and 1. 6. c. 2. from Lydda to the sea in the vale; and this was so very fruitful, that the Targumist on this place renders it, “by the garden of Eden:” and Sharon is described in the Jewish map220220T. Hieros. Shevlith, fol. 38. 4. as fat and fertile, having in it very desirable fields, fruitful vines, and abounding with flowers and roses. There are various sorts of roses in different places, some better than others; those of the first class with the Greeks221221Apud De Dieu in Act. 9:35. were those of Olenum, and next those of Megara Nisea, and then those of Phaselis, and then of others; with the Romans, the best were those of Praeneste and Campania, and then others:222222Nicander apud Athen. Deipnosoph.1. 13. c. 9. p. 683. but of the roses in Judea, the rose of Sharon seems to have been the best, and therefore to that the comparison is made; there was a garden of roses in Jerusalem223223Pliny nat. hist.1. 21. c. 4. but not to them, but to those in Sharon is the allusion. The word for a rose is only used in this place and in Isaiah 35:1 and is so called, either from the collection and compression of leaves in it, or from the shadow of it; for the word seems to be compounded of one that signifies to hide and cover, and another that signifies a shadow; so Gussetius224224Misa. Maaserot, c. 2. s. 5. and so may be rendered, “the covering shadow:” but why a rose should be so.called is not easy to say; unless it can be thought to have the figure of an umbrella, or that the rose of Sharon was so large as to be remarkable for its shadow, like that Montfaucon225225Comment. Ebr. p. 239. saw in a garden at Ravenna, under the shadow of the branches of which more than forty men could stand. Christ is sometimes compared to trees for their shadow, which is pleasant and reviving, as in verse 3 (Hosea 14:7), but he here seems to be compared to the rose of Sharon on another account, even the excellency and fragrancy of it; for, Pliny says226226Diar, Ital. c, 7. p. 108 that the rose does not delight in fat soils, rich clays, or well-watered grounds, but thrives the best in poor lean ground; and that those are of the sweetest smell which grow in dry places, for ruderatum agrum amat, “it loves rubbish earth.” Now such dry and rubbish earth was that which was about the city of Sharon; for we read of such a place as inhabited (Acts 9:35), as the Talmudic doctors assert; who also tell us227227Lib. 21. c. 4 that those who built a brick house in Sharon, had no benefit of the law, mentioned in Deuteronomy 20:3 because the earth thereabout was not fit to make bricks of, nor would houses made of them continue long. Hence they also say228228In Misna Sotah, c. 8. 3. and R. Sol. Jarchi, Mai-mon. & Bartenora in idem. that the high priest, on the day of atonement, prayed particularly for the Sharonites, that their houses might not become their graves. Now these being the best and sweetest roses which grew in this soil, and Christ being compared to one of them, denotes the excellency and preferableness of Christ to all others.
Some229229T. Hiero. Soth, fol. 23. 1. think that some other plant or flower is here intended; the Targum renders it, “the narcissus;” of which some are white, having white leaves surrounding a yellow flower230230Vide R. Aben Ezram in loc. and some of a purple color231231Croceum florem—foliis medium cingentibus albis Ovid. Metamorph. 1. 3. fab. 6..383 and which Pliny232232Pro purpurco narrisso, Virg. Bucol. col. 5. 5:28. Aut suave rubens narcissus, ibid. Cyris. calls purple lilies: he says233233Nat. hist. l. 21. c. 5. there are two sorts of them, one that has a purple flower, and the other is of the grass kind; some, he says234234Ibid. c. 19. have a white flower and a purple cup. The heathens used to call the narcissus the ancient crown of their superior deities235235Ibid. c. 5. and it was reckoned a beautiful flower, and of a sweet smell236236Sophocles apud Plutarch. sympos.1. 3. P. 641. and for beauty Christ may be compared unto it: its white color may denote the purity of Christ; and the purple, his royalty, or rather his purple blood and sufferings of death. The Septuagint translate the words thus, “I am the flower of the field;” as do also the Vulgate Latin and Pagnine. Now Christ may be called so, 1. Kat ejxochn, by way of eminency, as being the chiefest and most excellent flower in the field; there is no such flower in the heavenly paradise as he is; among all the holy angels and glorified saints, there are none to be compared with him; and in his garden here below, no such flower grows as this; he is “the flower,” the choicest, the best, and the most excellent in the whole field or garden. 2. The flower of the field is liable to be plucked up or trodden under feet by beasts; Christ was exposed to the rage and fury of his enemies, those ‘strong bulls of Bashan” of which he complains (Ps. 22:13, 14). This sweet flower was laid hold on by “wicked hands,” and cropped; and still his precious person, blood and righteousness, are slighted, contemned, and “trodden under foot” by Christless and unconverted sinners. 3. This may be expressive of the meanness of Christ in the esteem of the world; a field-flower is little regarded; Christ is as “a root out of a dry ground,” and therefore they say, “he hath no form not comeliness, and when we shall see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him: hence he is despised and rejected of men,” they not knowing the real worth and value of this precious flower (see Isa. 53:2, 3). 4. The flower of the field is not of man’s planting, nor is it raised by his care and industry: Christ was conceived in the womb of a virgin, and born of her without the help of man; as the flower of the field, he had no father but his Father in heaven, and no mother but the virgin on earth; and so was Melchisedek’s antitype, “without father as man, and without mother as God.” 5. The flower of the field is open to all; whoever will may come to Christ for life and salvation; there is liberty of access to all sorts of sinners, to come to him and partake of his sweetness and benefits; he is not a flower in an enclosed garden, that cannot be come at, but stands in the open field; every sinner that labors under a sense of sin, and is heavy laden with the weight and burden of it, may come to him, and not fear a rejection from him; he is not “a fountain sealed, but opened to the house of David, and inhabitants of Jerusalem, for sin and for uncleanness.”
2dly, Christ may be very well compared to “the lily of the valleys,” 1. For its whiteness; the lily, as has been already observed, is exceeding white, which may intend the purity and holiness of Christ, who both in nature and life is “holy, harmless, undefiled, and separate from sinners; he is the lamb without blemish and without spot,” without the blemish of original or spot of actual sin; for he never knew it in his nature, nor did he ever commit it in his life, either in thought, word, or deed: or else the whiteness of the lily may signify his eternity; for so his head and his hairs are described by John (Rev. 1:14) to be “white like wool, as white as snow;” which represents him as the ancient of days, and as existing from everlasting to everlasting. 2. For its tallness; the lily grows up very high, as has been taken notice of Christ, as mediator, is “the rock that is higher than we are; from whence the waters of divine grace flow, to the refreshment of our souls, when overwhelmed “he is higher than the kings of the earth; nay, he is higher than the heavens,” and all the angels there; for he is “set far above all principality and power, and night, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come.” (Eph. 1:21). 3. For its fruitfulness; the lily is very fruitful, as has been before observed. Christ is “filled with all the fruits of righteousness,” and is possessed of all the blessings of grace; he is like a tree richly laden with fruit, and therefore is compared to an apple tree, in verse 3. all the church’s fruit and fruitfulness come from him; he is the green fir-tree, from whom all her “fruit is found.” 4. He may be compared to the lily for its excellency and glory; it being the next flower to the rose, and which is preferred by Christ to the glory of Solomon. Christ is the brightness of his father’s glory; is now, in our nature, “crowned with glory and honor;” and will shortly appear in his own glory, and in the glory of his Father, and of the holy angels. 5. He may be said to be the lily of the valleys, because of his wonderful humility and condescension, in assuming our nature, suffering in our stead, and in humbling himself unto the death of the cross for us; his whole life was one continued series of humility, as was his death an undeniable instance of it: Christ here on earth did not appear as the lofty cedar, but as the lowly lily, and that not of the mountains, but of the valleys; and it is with humble souls he delights to dwell; for though he is the high and lofty one, in his divine nature, yet he condescends to dwell with such who are of an humble and contrite spirit.
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