“I charge you, O daughters of Jerusalem, by the gazelles or by the does of the field, do not stir up nor awaken love until [she] pleases.” (Song of Solomon 2:7)
My worship team is currently studying through the Song of Solomon together. I was reading through it the other day when this verse struck me. (Note to anyone who happened to stumble across this blog: I am studying Song of Solomon through the classical allegorical interpretation. If you disagree with that, you probably won’t like this post. Fair warning.) 🙂
It’s important to see the context of this verse in order to get a fuller grasp of what it means. And no, I don’t think it is primarily about being a flagship quote for the True Love Waits movement, as much as I appreciate true love waiting. ANYWAY.
In 1:1-4, the bride is clearly in love with her Beloved and wants to know and experience Him more. However, in 1:5, she encounters a personal crisis. She realizes that she has issues of immaturity, sin and weakness in her heart (“I am dark”). Yet she also realizes that here, in this condition, she is still lovely to her Beloved.
Part of the reason she has this darkness residing in her is because she is overworked and burned out, as seen in 1:6: “…they made me keeper of the vineyards, but my own vineyard I have not kept.” The bride has been so busy attending to so many areas of ministry and service — so many demands on her time and energy — that she has totally neglected her own vineyard. In other words, she has not tended to her own devotional life and heart before the Lord. Everyone else’s vineyard has commandeered her efforts, but she herself is darkened, and her own vineyard is full of weeds.
This is not good. Something has to give. Her vineyard, her garden, is a key place in which the Lord wants to meet with her (see 4:16-5:1). It needs to regain priority in her attention and focus.
Verse 7 shows the bride’s cry for more intimacy. She doesn’t want to serve her Lord in shame (veiled), only from a distance. She wants to be near Him, and she wants Him to satisfy her heart, as He is so faithful to do for His own.
And He answers her. I have to skip a lot of good stuff here — it kind of pains me to do so, but you can study up on the whole book if you like by checking out Mike Bickle’s notes and teachings (they’re free!).
For now, fast forward to 2:3-5 to see where she ends up next in her journey. She is resting in the shade of His gracious provision for her (2:3). She is feasting at his banqueting table (2:4a), rejoicing in His amazing love over her life (2:4b). She’s asking Him to feed her and sustain her as her heart is groaning with love for Him (2:5).
It’s at this point that He breaks in and makes a proclamation about her: “I charge you, O daughters of Jerusalem… do not stir up nor awaken love until [she] pleases”. (2:7) The word rendered “it” in the New King James is an ambiguous word in Hebrew that can mean “it”, “he”, or “she”. Sparing the details to avoid a big exegetical bunny-trail, the context of this verse suggests that it should be “she”. Young’s Literal Translation agrees with this interpretation: “I have adjured you, daughters of Jerusalem, By the roes or by the hinds of the field, Stir not up nor wake the love till she please” (2:7, YLT)!
Thus, we don’t have a case of the bride telling the daughters of Jerusalem to try not to fall in love too soon. Instead, we see the Bridegroom issuing a charge concerning His beloved. He is essentially telling her friends and fellow believers, “Leave her alone.”
Why would He need to even tell them this? I believe that it’s because He is so aware of our human propensity to constantly seek validation through our productivity. I mean, let’s face it. Shade trees, banquets, and raisin cakes are all very nice — but they aren’t very useful. Wouldn’t the bride be making much more efficient use of her time by, say, tending a bunch of vineyards? There’s fruit that needs to be picked, seeds that need to be planted, and weeds that need to be pulled. How long is she planning on chilling out under that apple tree, anyway? Come on, girl, there’s work to be done!
The Bridegroom-God is not giving room for those arguments. He’s serious about it. “Leave her alone. Don’t try to stir her up out of this place.”
It made me think of another woman Jesus defended in exactly the same way. I’ll just let the story speak for itself.
Then Mary took a pound of very costly oil of spikenard, anointed the feet of Jesus, and wiped His feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the oil.
But one of His disciples, Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, who would betray Him, said, “Why was this fragrant oil not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?”…
But Jesus said, “Let her alone…”
(John 12:1-7, emphasis added)
Judas’ ulterior motives are beside the point right now. The point is we see the exact same situation, with the exact same accusation being brought against someone who is pursuing deeper love of the Bridegroom-God. We might imagine the disciples going something like this: “Wait. What are you doing? I mean, that’s good that you want to express your love to Jesus and all. Of course it’s good that you give Him your best. But come on, Mary! The whole pound of oil? Don’t you realize how much that’s worth? Don’t you realize what good and noble things you could accomplish with that? At least sell it and do something with it that benefits someone — no use wasting it all on Someone’s feet. It’s great that you love Him, but we really need to be reasonable here.”
Jesus has the same answer for his bickering disciples as He does for the daughters in the Song of Solomon. “Leave her alone.” In Jesus’ perfect assessment, this is precisely what Mary should be investing her livelihood in. Devotion comes with a cost. But it is worth it.
Now, Jesus is not against selling expensive things to give money to the poor — He actually advised some people to do just that (Matthew 19:21; Luke 12:33). Nor is Jesus against rising from that place of rest in the shade tree — the very next verses in Song of Solmon show how He Himself stirs up His bride from her comfort zone. We all know what the book of James has to say about the necessity of works with one’s faith. In short: Jesus really likes it when people do good works for the Kingdom.
What Jesus is speaking against is the tendency to exalt those works above the secret place of intimacy. In John 12, Mary was far more aware than the disciples that she had limited opportunity to lavish her love on Jesus in this life–the poor would be there in another week, but Jesus would not. It was now or never. In Song of Solomon 1 and 2, the bride has already learned that going about the works at the cost of her own vineyard leaves her burned and distant. Drawing near to Him in devotion was not just a nice idea; it was necessary for her to sustain her journey.
The Lord validates that priority set. “Leave her alone.” He has her where He wants her. In due time, Mary would be put to work, most likely being among those filled with the Spirit and prophesying of Jesus (Acts 1:14, 2:1). In due time, the Bridegroom-God would jostle the bride out of her comfort zone, drawing her into the risky business of running with Him in the partnership of ministry (Song of Solomon 2:8-13). But that time was not going to supplant that place of simply adoring Him and being enjoyed by Him.
There’s no way to prescribe or anticipate what this will look like with any given individual. It’s not as if God sets up a few months of a “just me and Jesus” time to alternate with a few months of “minister to the Body” time. We are to do both (they are the 1st and 2nd Great Commandments, after all). Some seasons may lean more towards one or the other, but we must be intentional about both if our hearts are to thrive in love.
The point is to hold on to that place of devotion. For one, it may look like ten hours a day in the prayer room. For another, it may look like fasting and devotions over lunchbreak at the office. For another, it may be snatches of prayer caught here and there throughout the day around dirty diapers, feedings, naps, and lost pacifiers. Whatever the specific situation, there’s no getting around it; it’s costly. Devotional prayer takes time — time that might otherwise be spent ministering, having strategic meetings, or running errands. And as a general rule, other people will only be too happy to offer their opinions on how much is too much to sacrifice in that arena.
But for myself, I am incredibly provoked right now by Jesus saying, “Leave her alone.” I am totally naturally inclined to be a vineyard-tender. But I want to be in the place where He can thunder that phrase over my life. I want to plant myself squarely where He wants me — and I know that at this juncture in my life, I can stand to err more on the side of the shade tree. I want that heart of a bride who is content to enjoy the fellowship of her Beloved. I want that heart of Mary who is willing to pay the cost of devotion to bless the heart of the Lord. I want my own vineyard to be blossoming and flourishing (and fox-free… see Song 2:15).
I want to choose to pursue that path of wholehearted devotion. He can stir me up to action when He wants — and I’m pretty sure I don’t have a better work ethic than Him. 🙂 If I stop my striving and anxiety, I know that He can hold me right where He wants me. And that’s a very good thing.