URC Daily Devotion Friday 29 April 2022

Song of Songs 5.8-16

I adjure you, O daughters of Jerusalem,
    if you find my beloved,
tell him this:
    I am faint with love.

What is your beloved more than another beloved,
    O fairest among women?
What is your beloved more than another beloved,
    that you thus adjure us?

My beloved is all radiant and ruddy,
    distinguished among ten thousand.

His head is the finest gold;
    his locks are wavy,
    black as a raven.

His eyes are like doves
    beside springs of water,
bathed in milk,
    fitly set.

His cheeks are like beds of spices,
    yielding fragrance.
His lips are lilies,
    distilling liquid myrrh.

His arms are rounded gold,
    set with jewels.
His body is ivory work,
    encrusted with sapphires.

His legs are alabaster columns,
    set upon bases of gold.
His appearance is like Lebanon,
    choice as the cedars.

His speech is most sweet,
    and he is altogether desirable.
This is my beloved and this is my friend,
    O daughters of Jerusalem.


These verses follow straight on from the scene in which the city watchmen assaulted the Shulamite woman. She begs the women around her for help, but they throw her request back at her, signalling disdain. 

Unsupported by the community, the woman must find her own coping strategies. The heady love song of this chapter could be a grounding exercise for a person trying not to panic: take a familiar scene in which you feel peaceful, think carefully about details, concentrate on textures, recall specific colours, breathe slowly, and self-soothe. 

The Shulamite woman’s song about her lover is in some ways like the one he sang about her – a study of a beautiful human body. But even if it is illegitimate to do so, I also find resonances here of the attempts (written much later) to describe God and Jesus in the books of Daniel and Revelation. Her lover is radiant, is decorated as though a statue, and his speech is sweetest. As the Psalmist says of God, “How sweet are Your words to my taste— sweeter than honey in my mouth!” Is this a meditation upon what God’s divine body would look like?
The end of this poem is to be treasured. How rare it is in the Bible for a woman to be called a friend, but these are the strongest words of her song: “this is my beloved and this is my friend”. We would be glad for any couple wanting to make this claim on their wedding day. Beloved is a beautiful and powerful endearment. Friend is likewise. This woman is God’s beloved and God’s friend, and she is both to God. The community’s attempt to alienate her as a victim is brutal, but God is constant and her belonging is secure. 


As you prepare to pray, reflect on this hymn lyric*:

Friend and lover, in your closeness
I am known and held and blessed
In your promise is my comfort, 
In your presence I may rest.

Beloved God,
My confidante and my companion.
You know my whole self, 
my public face and my inner thoughts.
Even as you challenge me,
and encourage me to grow,
you cherish me.
My friend and my God.

*Loving spirit, by Shirely Erena Murray (1989).


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