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Spoke 22 - Tav

Song of Songs, Acts, Revelation

Marriage Song: Union of Christ and His Church

A bundle of myrrh is my wellbeloved unto me; he shall lie all night betwixt my breasts. My beloved is unto me as a cluster of camphire in the vineyards of Engedi. Behold, thou art fair, my love; behold, thou art fair; thou hast doves’ eyes. Behold, thou art fair, my beloved, yea, pleasant: also our bed is green.

Song of Songs 1:13ff (Spoke 22, Cycle 1)

Union with God is the great promise and culminating purpose of the whole Bible. But to what shall we liken this union? Scripture declares "our God is a consuming fire" (Heb 12:29). He appeared to Moses in a flame of fire in the burning bush and led Israel through the wilderness by a pillar of fire. He lit the souls of His people with tongues of fire on Pentecost (Acts 2:3) and appeared to the Apostle John with eyes as flames of fire (Rev 1:14). There is absolutely nothing dispassionate about the God of the Bible. There is no limit to the fiery love He has for our souls as He proved with utter finality in the passion and death of His Son upon the Cross. In natural terms, the Song of Songs is an unbridled and explicitly erotic romance between King Solomon and his bride, bursting with shouts of joy and sensual delight. It declares God's Love in a way few men or women could fail to appreciate because it touches, with visceral physical images, the most intense and universal of all our desires – to give and receive love. God chose this imagery to evoke the deepest passions that He Himself placed in us when He created us "in the image of God ... male and female" (Gen 1:27). In the Song of Songs, God reveals Himself as the Lover of our souls and leads us as our Beloved Shepherd to the "high places" of Scripture through analogy, allegory, metaphor, and typology, showing us the Royal Road to fulfillment of the first and greatest commandment, "And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might" (Deut 6:5). This is what we were made for. It should be the consuming passion of our hearts because it is the consummating purpose of our creation.

The form of the title "Song of Songs" expresses its superior excellence as the best of all songs. Similar constructs are used in such titles as "King of Kings and Lord of Lords" to denote Christ's supreme sovereignty (Rev 19:16) and "Holy of Holies" to denote the holiest part of the Temple. The latter appears frequently in descriptions of the Divine Song, the earliest being from the first century when Rabbi Akiva defended its inclusion in the Canon, saying:

The entire universe is unworthy of the day on which the Song of Songs was given to Israel. For all the Writings are holy, but the Song of Songs is the holy of holies.

Eighteen centuries later, Charles Haddon Spurgeon, the "prince of preachers" of nineteenth century England, used the same language in his sermon A Bundle of Myrrh This link takes you off the Bible Wheel site and opens a new window in which he explained that just as a veil blocked entrance to the Temple's Holy of Holies, so there is a veil over the eyes of all who would approach the Divine Song unprepared, whether through spiritual immaturity or rank unbelief:

Certain divines [theologians] have doubted the inspiration of Solomon’s Song; others have conceived it to be nothing more than a specimen of ancient love-songs, and some have been afraid to preach from it because of its highly poetical character. The true reason for all this avoidance of one of the most heavenly portions of God's Word lies in the fact that the spirit of this Song is not easily attained. Its music belongs to the higher spiritual life, and has no charm in it for unspiritual ears. The Song occupies a sacred enclosure into which none may enter unprepared. "Put off thy shoes from off thy feet, for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground," is the warning voice from its secret tabernacles. The historical books I may compare to the outer courts of the Temple; the Gospels, the Epistles, and the Psalms, bring us into the holy place or the Court of the priests; but the Song of Solomon is the most holy place: the holy of holies, before which the veil still hangs to many an untaught believer. It is not all the saints who can enter here, for they have not yet attained unto the holy confidence of faith, and that exceeding familiarity of love which will permit them to commune in conjugal love with the great Bridegroom.

Since ancient times both Jews and Christians have understood the spiritual maturity required to properly interpret the Song of Songs, as explained by A. R. Fausset in his Introduction to the Song of Solomon This link takes you off the Bible Wheel site and opens a new window in the famous Commentary, Critical and Explanatory, on the Old and New Testaments:

Origen [185-254 AD] and Jerome [347-420 AD] tell us that the Jews forbade it to be read by any until he was thirty years old. It certainly needs a degree of spiritual maturity to enter aright into the holy mystery of love which it allegorically sets forth. To such as have attained this maturity, of whatever age they be, the Song of Songs is one of the most edifying of the sacred writings. ... The Song throughout consists of immediate addresses either of Christ to the soul, or of the soul to Christ. "The experimental knowledge of Christ's loveliness and the believer's love is the best commentary on the whole of this allegorical Song" [Leighton]. Like the curiously wrought Oriental lamps, which do not reveal the beauty of their transparent emblems until lighted up within, so the types and allegories of Scripture, "the lantern to our path" (Ps 119:105), need the inner light of the Holy Spirit of Jesus to reveal their significance.

The Spirit-led blend of allegorical, metaphorical, and typological interpretations of God's poetic Song is both obvious and correct. It is no accident that this view completely dominated Christian exegesis throughout most of the Church's history. Duane Garrett traced its origin to some of the earliest and most important Jewish and Christian writings in his entry in the New American Commentary:

From early times both Christians and Jews have proposed allegorical interpretations of the Song of Songs. Jews have taken it to be an allegory of the love between Yahweh and Israel, and Christians have regarded it as a song of the love between Christ and the church. ... Examples of allegorizing interpretations among the Jews are found in the Mishna, the Talmud, and the Targum on the book. ... The first manifestation of the Christian allegorizing tradition is in the commentary by Hippolytus of Rome (d. 235), now only partially extant. Jerome, Augustine, and above all Origen stand in the tradition of interpreting Song of Songs allegorically. Subsequent luminaries in this tradition include Gregory the Great and the Venerable Bede.

Garret said "above all Origen" because he wrote the first great commentary on it, influencing all who followed, such as Jerome who had this to say in his Preface to the Song of Songs:

Origen, whilst in his other books he has surpassed all others, has in the Song of Songs surpassed himself. He wrote ten volumes upon it, which amount to almost twenty thousand lines. ... [He writes] so grandly and so freely that it seems to me as if the words were fulfilled in him which say, "The king has brought me into his bedchamber." (Song 1:4) It would require a vast amount of time, of labour, and of money to translate a work so great and of so much merit into the Latin language. I therefore leave it unattempted ...

Ten volumes of twenty thousand lines to comment on the 117 verses of the Song of Songs? How could this be? Exactly what did Origen see in it? The answer is simple. Origen saw the full flowering and complete consummation of the essential message of all Scripture in the Song of God! In it, he heard the voice of the Bridegroom, the Living Christ, calling to him, and in this he was not alone. Hundreds of other Spirit-led commentators and preachers of the Word wrote from exactly the same point of view in the ensuing centuries. In her book The Voice of My Beloved: The Song of Songs in Western Medieval Christianity This link takes you off the Bible Wheel site and opens a new window, E. Ann Matter noted that it is "the most frequently interpreted book of medieval Christianity" with "nearly one hundred extant commentaries and homilies on the Song of Songs written between the sixth and fifteenth centuries."

Unfortunately, modern students of the Bible rarely appreciate the preeminence of the Song of Songs in traditional Christian exegesis because the current intellectual fashion denies the very key to its interpretation, leaving it a sealed Book utterly impenetrable to contemporary critical scholarship. "The demise of the allegorical interpretation," explained Garret, "appears to have left the Song of Songs a theologically impoverished book." Though naming the correct elements, Garret got them backwards; it is not the Book, but its unenlightened interpreters that are left "theologically impoverished" by their inability to see the consummate glory of the greatest Song of all Songs. They can not hear the voice of Christ calling to them, "Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away!" (Song 2:13) They are left to sit in the dust of this world without any metaphor, allegory, or poetry to carry them to the higher truths of Holy Scripture.

Fausset provided a fine (and typical) explanation of the traditional Christian understanding of the Canticle of Canticles as it is known from the Latin translations:

Canticles sets forth the fullness of the love which joins believers and the Saviour. The entire economy of salvation, says Harris, aims at restoring to the world the lost spirit of love. God is love, and Christ is the embodiment of the love of God. As the other books of Scripture present severally their own aspects of divine truth, so Canticles furnishes the believer with the language of holy love, wherewith his heart can commune with his Lord; and it portrays the intensity of Christ's love to him; the affection of love was created in man to be a transcript of the divine love, and the Song clothes the latter in words; were it not for this, we should be at a loss for language, having the divine warrant, wherewith to express, without presumption, the fervor of the love between Christ and us. The image of a bride, a bridegroom, and a marriage, to represent this spiritual union, has the sanction of Scripture throughout; nay, the spiritual union was the original fact in the mind of God, of which marriage is the transcript.

It is important to receive Fausset's insight. Our spiritual union with Christ was the original idea in the mind of God, the root and foundation of the Divine Institution of Marriage. In support of his assertions, he cited fourteen passages drawn from both Testaments where God presented marriage as a metaphor or analogy of our relationship with Him, including "For thy Maker is thine husband" (Isa 54:5), "Turn, O backsliding children, saith the LORD; for I am married unto you" (Jer 3:14), "I have espoused you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ" (2 Cor 11:2), and this long passage from Ephesians:

Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it; That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish. So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife loveth himself. For no man ever yet hated his own flesh; but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as the Lord the church: For we are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones. For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh. This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church.

Ephesians 5:25ff

The last highlighted words sum up the source of the difficulties modern critics have with the Song of Songs. Union with God through Christ is one of the deepest mysteries of the faith; no insight into it can be found outside a living relationship with Christ as Saviour and Lord. Immediately following his citation of Ephesians, Fausset reiterated his insight and capped it off by citing the three verses from Revelation shown in the box:

Paul does not go from the marriage relation to the union of Christ and the Church as if the former were the first; but comes down from the latter as the first and best recognized fact on which the relation of marriage is based (Rev 19:7; 21:2; 22:17).

This brings us to the great consummation of God's Plan of the Ages, and again we are able to see – with our own eyes – the overwhelming wonder of Divine Wisdom displayed so simply and so gracefully in the structure of the Holy Word. The first and last Books on Spoke 22 mutually enlighten each other. While the individual threads of this Marriage Tapestry are woven throughout nearly every Book of the Bible, they come together in complete perfection on the Last Spoke to form an incomparable image of the consummation of God's whole plan of salvation. The alignment of these Books on Spoke 22 is a perpetual miracle; the Consummation of All History in Revelation is couched in the primary metaphor of the Song of Songs! Their geometric alignment and alphabetic integration with Tav ignites a Divine synergy that compounds, compacts, and amplifies the meaning of each element associated with the Last Spoke. We have here another complete convergence of multiple independent components that reiteratively tell the everlasting story of the glorious Love of God.

Yet this is but the beginning of wonders. The true miracle is that none of these observations, except those directly dependent on the Wheel, are new. For centuries, Christians have written about the inextricable interconnections between the Song of Songs and the Apocalypse (Book of Revelation). In his comment on the Song's first verse, Fausset wrote that it is a "foretaste on earth of the ‘new song’ to be sung in glory," citing the three verses from Revelation quoted in the box. Ann Matter, the expert on medieval interpretations of the Song of Songs quoted above, wrote:

It is no historical accident that so many medieval exegetes commented on both the Apocalypse and the Song of Songs.

Her book is filled with observations about the "softening of boundaries between the Apocalypse and Song of Songs" in medieval interpretation, the "thematic convergence" of these two Books, and "the connection between the Song of Songs and the Apocalypse as related allegories of the Church." She wrote that the "Song of Songs and the Apocalypse were thus increasingly read together, as two accounts of the same divine plan" and later explained how Haimo of Auxerre in the ninth century combined earlier commentaries on the Song of Songs from the Venerable Bede and Ambrosius Autpertus in his own commentary on the Apocalypse:

Haimo's text opened the way for ... a series of commentaries which especially stress the understanding of the Song of Songs as the love between Christ and the individual human soul. This idea became especially current in the twelfth century, but its roots can be seen several generations earlier, in the increasingly common perception of the relation between the Song of Songs and the Apocalypse. ... It is hardly surprising that Haimo, like Akuin, put together an Apocalypse commentary from the works of Bede and Ambrosius Autpertus; many medieval exegetes commented on both the Apocalypse and the Song of Songs.

Without a doubt, these two Books are by far the most poetic, symbolic, metaphorical, allegorical, parabolic, typological, and mystical Books in the Bible. Thus Garret wrote:

No other book of the Bible (except perhaps Revelation) suffers under so many radically different interpretations as the Song of Songs.

By Divine design, these are the two Books with the broadest range of possible interpretations because such is the only way to teach the deepest truths of the faith. Like any great poem, painting, or song, all people will agree on the primary themes and outline but each will have his or her own rich set of interpretations and unique personal applications. This is how the Bible comes alive for each believer. For the Christian seeking communion with the Lord, their wealth of allusion opens the door to the limitless "treasures of wisdom and knowledge" that are hid in Christ Jesus (Col 2:3). Only when pressed into a limited one-dimensional "this means that and only that" type interpretation, are their wings clipped and they fall silent to the ground.

All these ideas, including the geometric structure of the Bible in the form of the Wheel, come together in this image from an eleventh century illuminated manuscript of the Latin Vulgate called the "Bible of Alard." This returns us again to the full integration of Art and Theology. It is a magnificent work in which the initial Letter of the first verse of each Book is written large and brightly decorated with colorful images, hence the term illuminated. Scholars call these Letters "historiated initials." Many such initials are adorned only with flowers, animals, or abstract patterns that do not relate to the theme of its Book. But in some instances, the shape of the initial Letter lends itself quite naturally to an artistic representation of the Book's primary theme, as in the present case.

In the Bible of Alard, the initial Letter of the Song of Songs is the "O" of the Latin phrase OSCVLETVR ME (Let him kiss me). It is drawn much larger than most illuminated Letters, taking up almost the entire width of the text column. The scribe filled the remaining vertical space with the rest of the first two words. Though it is hard to see in the reproduction, the two figures are labeled with the abbreviations XRS (Christus = Christ) and ECCLA (Ecclesia = Church). Christ covers His Bride with His cloak and their cheeks are intimately pressed together at the exact center of the tri-radiant halo so they share the Sign of Deity, suggesting the full presence of Christ in His Church and the fulfillment of God's promise to make all believers "partakers in the Divine nature" (2 Pet 1:4). I have little doubt the scribe thought it providential the initial "O" naturally accommodated an optimal representation of the union of Christ with His Bride embracing within an unbroken circle like a wedding ring. This shows not only how illuminated manuscripts unite form with meaning, but also that such is an essential characteristic of the Wheel. The theme of the Book that closes the circle of Cycle 1 is itself best represented by a closed circle, so that the historiated "O" – produced nine centuries before the revelation of the Wheel – enlightens its whole structure and reveals it to be nothing less than a God given illuminated manuscript, fully integrating its content with its form (BW book pgs 40, 178).

Related article: Revelation: The Capstone Book

This article is essentially identical to pages 70-76 of the Bible Wheel book. It reveals the great miracle of the Divine design of the Holy Bible - the first Cycle is consummated in the Song of Songs - the Marriage Song!

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