I slept but my heart was awake. Listen! My beloved is knocking: “Open to me, my sister, my darling, my dove, my flawless one. My head is drenched with dew, my hair with the dampness of the night.” I have taken off my robe— must I put it on again? I have washed my feet— must I soil them again? My beloved thrust his hand through the latch-opening; my heart began to pound for him. I arose to open for my beloved, and my hands dripped with myrrh, my fingers with flowing myrrh, on the handles of the bolt. I opened for my beloved, but my beloved had left; he was gone. My heart sank at his departure. I looked for him but did not find him. I called him but he did not answer. The watchmen found me as they made their rounds in the city. They beat me, they bruised me; they took away my cloak, those watchmen of the walls! Daughters of Jerusalem, I charge you— if you find my beloved, what will you tell him? Tell him I am faint with love. – Song of Solomon 5:2-8
This passage starts off with a very interesting statement “I slept but my heart was awake”. I sometimes feel like this in the watches of the night when I am having trouble sleeping. Since the heart is often used as a metaphor for our souls it is almost like saying my body is asleep but my soul is awake. It seems to me that usually it is the other way around, our bodies are awake and our souls are sleeping.
The male figure arrives, apparently in the early morning, drenched with dew. Dew is an interesting form of water that has shown up several times during my journey so far. In the book of Judges Gideon used the dew to help discern the will of God (Judges 6:33-40); and in Deuteronomy dew was described as “precious dew from heaven above” (Deuteronomy 33:13-17). Dew seems to have a metaphorical connection to the Holy Spirit, at least in other parts of the old testament. It was the dew that brought the bread from heaven (manna) to feed the Israelites in the desert. (Exodus 16:13-16).
The scene is a bit surreal. It sounds like the male figure is waiting naked (“I have taken off my robe”) outside the door of his lover, the female figure. He has washed his feet in preparation for entering the house. He prepares to enter the house by thrusting his hand through the latch opening. His lover, in eager anticipation, goes to open the door and let him in and… finds that he has gone. That was not what I expected to happen. She searches the city for him and cannot find him. She ends up beaten and bruised (and perhaps worse reading between the lines) by the city watchmen. Those who are supposed to be guarding the city walls and protecting those inside.
OK so this passage is confusing on many levels. It has plot twists and intrigue that Hollywood would probably love to include in a movie or television series. Is there deeper meaning here that we can plumb? Is there something we can learn about our relationship with God by viewing this story metaphorically?
Metaphorically speaking the male figure is God or Christ. So the first part of the passage is a bit like saying something heretical — that God is waiting naked for us, covered with dew, outside our door. When we, metaphorically the Israelites and the Church, go to the door to “let Him in” he is not there. We go wandering the city and end up battered and bruised.
This sounds like the experience the Israelites are having with God. They often feel he is distant, like clouds high up in the sky, and difficult to find even when he is providing tangible evidence of his presence in form of a cloud by day and pillar of fire by night. I think the modern day followers of Christ (the Church) sometimes experience the similar confusion when they feel like God is distant. In both cases it is often we who have moved rather than God. The woman in this passage moves from her house in search of her lover and the end result is not good. Perhaps the lesson is that when we feel like God has left us we should remain “in our house” rather than going “wandering”.
I think there is a difference between wandering and seeking. In a spiritual sense remaining “in the house” is trusting that God knows us and desires to carry us like a son or daughter even when it feels like he has left us. We are called to be active seekers after God, but we need to discern when to wait and when to pursue Him so that we do not find ourselves “wandering the city”, vulnerable to unscrupulous “guards”.
Prayer: God help us to discern when to wait and when to wander. When we should seek after You and when we should await your return.