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Chapter 4 Verse 1
art fair, my love, behold thou art fair; thou hast doves”
eyes within thy locks: thy hair is as a flock of goats, that appear
from mount Gilead.
these words Christ reassumes his part in this Song, and enters upon a commendation of his church’s beauty; which he does,
First, More generally by asserting it, when he says, “Behold thou art fair” etc. in which general commendation of her beauty, we have, 1st, An affectionate character given to her, “my love.” 2dly, Something asserted of her, that she was fair. 3dly, This assertion repeated. 4thly, To this assertion the word behold prefixed. This commendation we have already met with, expressed in the same words, in chapter 1:15. where this kind and loving character has been opened; in what sense the chinch may be said to be fair, shewn; as also the reasons of Christ’s repeating this assertion, and prefixing to it the word. behold, are given: The reasons why these words are again mentioned by him, perhaps may be to shew how much his heart was taken with her beauty; that his love to her was the same as ever it was, notwithstanding her sleepy frames and unbecoming carriage to him; as also, because she might stand in need of the fresh discoveries of his love.
Secondly, He gives some particular instances of her beauty” in this and the four following verses.
1st, He describes the beauty of her eyes, and asserts, that she has doves” eyes within her locks: in which words we are to consider, 1. What we are to understand by her eyes. 2. Why they are called doves” eyes. 3. Why they are said to be within her locks.
1. By the church’s eyes we may understand, either the ministers of the gospel, who are to the church what eyes are to an human body; they are placed in the more eminent part of Christ’s body, the church, to watch, overlook, guide and direct the other members of the body: or else, by them may be intended, the eyes of the understanding being illuminated by the divine Spirit; and more especially the eye of faith, by which a soul, enlightened by divine grace, beholds the glory, fullness, and suitableness of Christ, and looks to him alone for life and salvation.
2. These eyes are called doves. Why ministers of the gospel are compared to doves, and the eye of faith said to be a dove’s eye, have been already shewn on chapter 1:15.
3. These eyes are said to be within her locks; which, if applied to the ministers of the gospel, may denote, 1. The imperfection of their light and knowledge, and that a great deal of darkness and obscurity attends them: they know but in part, and prophesy but in part; as eyes under the locks, being covered with them, cannot see so clearly, as when they are removed from them; so the ministers of the gospel cannot see so clearly into gospel-truths in this state of imperfection, as they shall, when these locks of darkness are removed; for then they shall see eye to eye: their knowledge of Christ is imperfect now; their light into gospel truths is weak and dim; and proportionate to their light and knowledge do they preach: the apostle. Paul, who had the greatest light into the gospel, and the largest share of the knowledge of Christ Jesus, that perhaps, ever any man had, yet desired to know more of Christ, and the power of his resurrection (Phil. 3:10). 2. It may be expressive of their modesty and humility: locks being decently tied up, as this word signifies443443dtmxl intra ligamina tua, some in Vatablus; vittam tuam, Cocceius; con-strictam comam tuam. Michaelis, so Jarchi; vid. Horat. Carmin.1. 2. ode 11. 5:23, 24. Crines connexi. Propert. 1. 2. eleg. 5. 5:23. is an evidence of modesty, as the contrary is of wantonness: the ministers of the gospel, though they have the greatest gifts bestowed upon them, yet reckon themselves less than the least of all saints; for notwithstanding all their parts, gifts, and graces, they do not think themselves sufficient, either to think or speak any thing as of themselves: but acknowledge that their sufficiency is of God, who only hath made them able ministers of the New Testament; and whenever their labors are blest and owned, either for the comfort and edification of God’s people, or for the conversion of sinners, they .ascribe it not to themselves, but to the grace of God that as with them. 3. This phrase may be added, to set forth their beauty; eyes, from under or within the locks decently and modestly bound up, look very beautiful; or under locks of hair, plaited and curled about the face, so that the eyes are but just seen, which add to the beauty of them: the ministers of the gospel appear beautiful, not only to Christ, who has counted them faithful, and put them into the ministry; but also to those to whom they are made useful, either for comfort and establishment, or for conviction and conversion; to these, even the very “feet of him that bringeth good tidings, that publisheth peace, that bringeth good tidings of good, that publisheth salvation, are beautiful,” (Isa. 52:7).
But if by these doves eyes we understand the enlightened eyes of the understanding, and particularly the eye of faith; then this phrase perhaps is used to denote, (1.) The imperfection of faith: the greatest believer has need to pray, with the apostles, “Lord, increase our faith;” there are some, ta> uJverhmata, some things lacking, some deficiencies in faith which need perfecting; it is true, “faith is the evidence of things not seen,” yet oftentimes it is very dark and obscure: indeed, when compared with Old Testament saints, believers under the New may be said with open face to behold, as in a glass, the glory of the Lord; but when compared with saints, possessed of the beatific vision, they see but through a glass darkly; their eyes are within their locks. (2.) To shew us what a modest grace faith is; it looks alone on Christ, it lives only on him; it receives all from him, and gives all the glory to him; it ascribes nothing in man’s salvation to itself, nor to any thing done by the creature, but all to Christ and his grace; and so excludes boasting, as the apostle says (Rom. 3:27), “Where is boasting then? it is excluded: By what law? of works? nay; but by the law of faith.” Had works any thing to do in man’s salvation, boasting would have been encouraged and established; but God of his infinite wisdom has ordered it, that it should be of and through faith; that it might appear to be of grace, and not of works, lest any man should boast. (3.) To set forth how beautiful faith is in Christ’s eye, and how much his heart is taken with it; as appears from the ninth verse of this chapter, where he says, “Thou hast ravished my heart, my sister, my spouse; thou hast ravished my heart with one of thine eyes,” that is, with the eye of faith.
2dly, He describes her beauty by her hair, which he says “is as a flock of goats that appear from mount Gilead;” that is, like the hair of such a flock of goats, so Ben Melech; which in some countries, hangs down like the locks of womens hair plaited444444AElian. de Animal.1. 16. c. 30. and is thought to be most like human hair (1 Sam. 19:13), in the hair of women their comeliness greatly lies, and without which they are not pleasing, as Apuleius445445Metamorph.1. 2. observes: It is compared not to such hair for length and sleekness as for the color of it, being yellowish, which with women formerly was in esteem, and reckoned graceful; and great care was taken to make it look so, even as yellow as gold446446Virgil AEneid. 4. prope finem; aurea caesaries, AEneid. 8. 5:659. Vid. Barthii Animadv. ad Claudian, de Rapt. Proserp. 1. 3. c 86. nor was it unusual to compare the hair of women, and represent it as superior to a fleece of the choicest flock;447447Quae crine vincit Boetici gregis vellus, Martial,1. 5. epigr. 38. women in former times had their perukes made of goats hair.448448Hoedina tibi pelle, Ibid.1. 12. ep. 38. This may be understood, 1st, Of the outward conversation of the saints; which may be compared to hair, for the following reasons.
1. Because as the hair is for covering (1 Cor. 11:15), so is a well-ordered and gospel conversation a covering to the saints. The believer has many coverings; he has more garments than one: he is clothed with “the garments of salvation, and covered with the robe of Christ’s righteousness; this is his justification, and what gives him a title to glory:” he has also the garment of sanctification, which is curiously wrought by the Spirit of God; and this makes him meet for the king’s presence: and he has, besides these, his conversation, garments, which he is to watch and keep from being spotted with the flesh, and to wash them and make them white in the blood of the lamb; but these cannot cover sins, nor screen him from divine justice; this only the righteousness of Christ can do, by which his sins are so covered, that when they are sought for they shall not be found; but his outward conversation is “a covering narrower than that he can wrap himself in,” so as to be hid and secured from divine justice; if he was only to appear herein before justice, these very clothes would both abhor and condemn him: nor can they make him meet for the king’s presence; this only the garment of sanctification can do: but then the outward conversation of the saints is a cover and a fence against the reproaches of the world; for though they have not whereof to glory before Gad, yet at some times and in some cases they may lawfully do it before men, and say, as Samuel did, “Whose ox have I taken? whom have I defrauded? Whom have I oppressed, or of whose hand have I received any bribe?” thus their conversation is a cover and fence unto them; and is of service to make those “ashamed who falsely accuse their good conversation an Christ, and to put to silence the ignorance of foolish men. 2. As hair is very ornamental to the believer: as garments, though they do not make, yet they adorn the man; so a good conversation, though it does not make, yet it adorns the Christian: It is decent and becoming the gospel of Christ Jesus; it adorns the doctrine of God our savior, and recommends religion to others. 3. As hair that is ordered aright, and well taken care of, so is a well-ordered conversation; that is such an one as is ordered, according to the rule of God’s word, and by God himself; for, “the steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord:” David knew this full well that God did so, and that he himself was insufficient for it; and therefore he thus prays, “order my steps in thy word,” that is, according to thy word, which is the rule of faith and practice: and such a conversation as this being like a well-set and ordered head of hair, is very grateful and well-pleasing to Christ; therefore he says, “to him that ordereth his conversation aright, will I shew the salvation of God,” (Ps. 1:23). 4. As the hair upon the head is conspicuous and manifest to all, so is the conversation of the saints: that they are justified by Christ’s righteousness, and sanctified by his Spirit, are not seen and known of all men; but their outward conversation is manifest, and so it should be; “let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven,” (Matthew 5:16). 5. As hair has its dependence upon, and influence from the head; so has the outward conversation of the saints its dependence on, and influence from the grace of the Spirit: a graceless professor, though he may keep up a moral conversation for a time; yet it will drop off from him like leaves from trees in autumn, or like hair that is shed from the head after a violent distemper; the “root of the matter” not being; in him: the difference between a man of grace and a graceless professor, is elegantly given by Jeremy (Jer. 17:5-8), the one is like the “heath in the desert,” dry and barren; the other is like a “tree planted by the waters,” moist and flourishing; “his leaf is green,” and “he ceaseth not from yielding fruit.” Thus the outward conversation of the saints may be compared to hair: and what may farther confirm this sense of the words, is, that the apostle Paul, in 1 Timothy 2:9, 10 instead of broidered hair, recommends shamefacedness, sobriety and good works, as more becoming godliness; and the apostle Peter, in 1 Peter 3:3, 4, instead of plaiting the hair, exhorts to an adorning with the “ornament of a meek and quiet spirit.”
Now this hair of the church’s, or the outward conversation of the saints, may also be compared to a “flock of goats which appear from mount Gilead;” or, on mount Gilead, as Noldius: Gilead was a very proper place for cattle (Num. 32:1), and no doubt the goats which were fed there, as were usual on mountains449449Theocrit. Idyll 3. 5:1, 2. were fat and fruitful; and being in large numbers, and kept in good order, might appear from this mount, to distant spectators, beautiful and magnificent; their hair particularly might be long, smooth, sleek and glistering, and look very beautiful and lovely; especially in the morning at sun-rising, that glancing on them, with its bright and glittering rays, they were very delightful to behold; so R. Jonah, from the use of the word in the Arabic language which signifies the morning, interprets it, “which rise early in the morning:” and which, as Schultens450450Animadv. in loc. observes, some render, “leading to water early in the morning:” the Vulgate Latin version is, “that ascend from mount Gilead;” from a lower to a higher part of it; which Bochart approves of it.451451Hierozoic. par. 1. 1. 2. c. 5. col. 628. So saints, being fruitful in every good word and work, and orderly in their lives and conversations, appear even to the world amiable and lovely; they are like to the he-goat, “comely in going,” (Prov. 30:29-31), nay, to a flock of them on mount Gilead. Or else,
2dly, By her hair, we may understand the inward thoughts of her heart452452So Tres Patres apud Theodoret in loc. For, 1. As hair arises from and has its dependence upon the head, so do thoughts from the heart; it is out of the heart all evil thoughts proceed (Matthew 15:19); “out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, etc.” and so all good thoughts, which are likewise formed and cherished there by the Spirit of God. 2. As the hairs of the head are numerous, so are the thoughts of the heart: a believer has many thoughts of heart; there is a multitude of thoughts within him (Ps. 94:19), concerning the corruption of his nature, the sinfulness of his actions, and his frequent backslidings from God; a multitude of thoughts concerning Christ and his grace, and the glories of another world. 3. As the hair of the head is weak and easily moved and tossed about by the wind; so are the thoughts of a believer’s heart, sometimes this way and sometimes another; and are like the eyes of fools in the ends of the earth, unless fixed and established by the Spirit of God upon proper objects. 4. Being rightly ordered by the Spirit of God, as a well-managed and well-ordered head of hair, they are exceedingly admired and valued by Christ Jesus; for he has a “book of remembrance written,” not only for them who speak of him and fear him, but also for those who think upon his name (Mal. 3:16).
And as the thoughts of a believer’s heart, thus fixed, managed and ordered by the Spirit of God, may be compared to hair, so likewise to a flock of goats on mount Gilead; and then may they be so. when they ascend on high, and dwell upon the everlasting, unchangeable and boundless love of God in Christ; which love has its heights and depths, its lengths and breadths; when they soar aloft, and dwell upon the everlasting covenant of grace; which covenant “is ordered in all things and sure,” filled with all spiritual blessings and precious promises; when their thoughts are composed and settled upon the consideration of Christ’s person, fullness, blood and righteousness; when they are employed about and concerned in the contemplation of the sublime doctrines of the gospel, and the invisible realities of another world; all which are things that are above; then may they be said to be like a flock of goats which appear from mount Gilead. But,
3dly, I rather choose to understand, by the hair, believers themselves: Thus the people of Israel and inhabitants of Jerusalem are represented by hair (Ezek. 5:1-5). Now believers may be called so, 1. For their number: the hairs of a man’s head are numerous; therefore when the Psalmist declares the large number of his sins and transgressions, he makes use of this metaphor, saying, “they are more than the hairs of my head:” indeed believers, when compared with the world, are but few, a small number, a remnant, and a little flock; yet considered and viewed by themselves, and when all together, they are a great multitude which no man can number (Rev. 7:9). 2. For their growing upon, and receiving nourishment from Christ, the head: the hair grows upon the head, receives its nourishment from it; Christ is the head o£ his body, the church; believers are the hair which grow upon, and grow up into this head; and from thence do they receive all their grace and strength, their life and liveliness, their food and nourishment, and so increase with “the increase of God,” (Eph. 4:15, 16; Col. 2:19). 3. For their weakness in themselves, and dependence on Christ, the head: hair is a weak thing of itself, and has its dependence on the head; believers are weak, in them., selves, and can do nothing of themselves without him; their dependence is on him for strength, as well as for righteousness; and it is only through him strengthening them, that they do the things they do. 4. For their being an ornament to Christ, the head: hair is an ornament to the head; “the beauty of old men is the gray head:” saints are the ornament, beauty and glory of Christ; they are a crown of glory and a royal diadem in his hand, and upon his head. 5. For their valuableness to him, and the care he takes of them: a well-set head of hair is highly esteemed, and is taken much care of among men; but this cannot be more valued, and taken more care of, than believers are by Christ; he values them as his jewels and peculiar treasure, and he will not lose one of them; the hairs of our head are all numbered, and so are all the hairs of Christ’s head, and not one of them shall be lost: it is true, those who are only nominal professors, and only by an external profession hold to the head, not being rooted in him, shall be shed from thence; but so shall not one of those who are one spirit with him, and grow upon him.
Now saints may be compared to a flock of goats on mount Gilead. (1.) They may be compared to goats: it is true, this word is used of carnal and Christless sinners; who are called so in opposition to, and contradistinction from Christ’s sheep; bat these creatures being offered up in sacrifice under the old law, prefigured Christ (Ex. 12:5), and therefore we need not wonder that saints bear this character, who are enabled to present themselves to God, holy, living and acceptable sacrifices; as also, perhaps they may be so called, on the account of the remainder of sin and corruption: for in them, that is, in their “flesh, dwells no good thing;” and are stinking and abominable in the esteem of the world, reckoned by them the off-scouring and refuse of all things, as well as mean and vile in their own eyes. (2.) May be compared to a flock of them, because they belong unto and are under the care of one and the same shepherd, folded in one and the same fold, and fed together in one and the same pasture; as also, on the account of their Social worship, their assembling and walking together in the faith and order of the gospel. (3.) To a flock of them on mount Gilead: they have a good pasture upon a goodly mount; they live and feed upon the Lord Jesus Christ, that great mountain, which shall ere long fill the whole earth; here they find the best of pasture, and become fat and flourishing, like the goats on mount Gilead; here they live and dwell safely, secured from danger, and out of the reach of enemies; their place of defense is a munition of rocks, their bread is given them, and their waters sure,” (Isa. 33:16).
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