WE LEFT THE SHULAMMITE QUICKENED
FROM HER LUKEWARM STATE.
AFTER SHE REFUSED HER BRIDEGROOM
AND HE HAS LEFT, SHE REALIZES HER FOLLY.
SHE RUNS, DESPERATE, OUT INTO THE STREET,
CALLING OUT FOR THE ONE HER SOUL LOVES,
BUT HE GIVES NO ANSWER.
I CALLED HIM, BUT HE GAVE NO ANSWER
THE WATCHMEN FOUND ME
AS THEY WENT ABOUT THE CITY,
THEY BEAT ME, THEY BRUISED ME,
THEY TOOK AWAY MY VEIL,
THOSE WATCHMAN OF THE WALLS.
(SONG OF SONGS 5:6-7)
Last week you did such a good job of digging into this, pondering it, considering also what commentators thought. I want to go deeper this week, and consider also, how to have strength when we may face this same persecution. Generally the watchmen are interpreted by those I respect, both ancient and modern, to be guardians of the church. They may be true shepherds disciplining the sheep, just as Israel was disciplined by the Lord for her disobedience. Or they may be persecuting her unfairly, as the harshness seems to imply. It is not uncommon for a believer who has passion to be misunderstood, even by her family or the family of God. Michal hated David when he danced before the Lord. Eli assumed Hannah was drunk when she was praying with passion.
How often has it happened that someone puts her trust in Christ, only to be chastised by her liberal minister who may not belong to Christ and is alarmed by her passion and/or concerned about losing one of his members? There are also pastors who know the Lord but who feel that their denomination is the only True Church and are skeptical of anyone outside. I have a dear friend who came to Christ in Bible Study Fellowship. When she shared her testimony with her minister, instead of rejoicing with her, he seemed concerned and then told her to leave BSF. He was alarmed that they might teach something different than their denomination taught. Because she could not deny what had happened to her, she left that church with great sadness. She joined another and went on to become a wonderful teaching leader for BSF in Chicago.
But persecution can be far worse than that. There are wolves in sheep’s clothing, charismatic leaders who claim to be Christian but twist the Scripture to promote their own evil agenda. Hitler formed “the German ‘Christian’ Church” and used, for example, Jesus’ indictments against the hypocrisy of the Pharisees to imply that Jesus hated the Jews. Amazingly, either out of being spellbound, or because they feared for their lives, many German pastors aligned themselves with Hitler, swearing an oath of allegiance to him, and becoming part of the persecution against Jews and the Christians who were endeavoring to protect them.
It frightens me to see what is happening in our country today that seems eerily reminiscent of this. Yet, God only gives Satan enough rope to hang himself, for nothing slips between His fingers. Even “the blood of the martyrs,” as Tertullion said, is the “seed of the church.” The persecuted church is far stronger than the church at ease. The Open Door has reported the highest number of martyrdoms in 2015 (7,000) in their history, and a 50% increase over 2014. How we must be ready and cling to the One who is our only hope. What the Song of Song accomplishes is to show us His great love and cause our cold hearts to melt. Seeing His great love for us turns our heart of stone into a heart of flesh, and that, and that alone, is our strength when we face persecution.
The world was shocked when Islamic militant posted videos of their beheadings of twenty-one Christians on a Libyan beach in February of 2015. The eerie videos showed tall men in black hoods towering over men in orange jumpsuits kneeling on the beach. Twenty of those men were young Coptic Christians from Egypt, but one man, Matthew Ayairga of Ghana, somehow got corraled with them. Each Christian was asked to deny Christ, and when he refused, was beheaded or shot. Finally they came to Matthew and asked him “Do you reject Christ?”
He said, “Their God is my God.” And he died with his brothers. Their passion for Christ gave Matthew the same passion. (James Dean: World News Radio, Dec 1, 2015)
When we trust the Lord amidst suffering and persecution and even death, our trials and our trust is a trail that leads others to Christ.
I want you to listen to the following story, a story that is happening again and again right now in the Middle East. From a Reformed point of view, I disagree with the lyric “I have decided to follow Jesus” because I don’t think we decide. We do not have that ability, but instead respond to His love. (I used to give Kathy Troccoli a hard time about her song, “I Will Choose Christ,” for the same reason.) You may see this as nitpicking, and it may be, but this will be taken up again in the sermon by Michael Reeves for this week.
She was misused of the watchmen. They scorned her, and her “veil is taken away,” yet notwithstanding, she loves Christ still. …Certainly where the love of Christ is, there is a spirit of fortitude, as we may see in the church here, who is not discouraged from Christ by any means. He is still the chief of ten thousand. When she was wronged for seeking after him, yet he was altogether lovely.
She must find her beloved and exhorts the daughters of Jerusalem to help her. When they ask her why he is “better than others,” she is ready to give an answer! And that is where we are headed next week, Holy Week, the holiest week of the year. We will contemplate why our Lord is better than others.
1. What stood out to you from the above and why?
2. What are some ways God wooed you before you came to Him, and woos you still, despite your failings?
Monday-Tuesday Bible Study
The key holes in ancient doors were so large you could put your hand through them. When the Shulammite refuses to open the door, he leaves a gift of oinment, myrrh, for her. It is a parting act of grace.
3. Read Song of Songs 5:5-7
A. What happens to her when she finally rises to open the door? What message is he giving her through leaving quietly and leaving a gift?
B. CHALLENGE QUESTION
What “gifts of myrrh” has Jesus left for you when you were lukewarm or disobedient?
C. Describe her emotions in verse 6.
D. What happened to her when she went out into the city? What do you think this means?
4. Peter writes to the persecuted church at time when Nero was putting Christians to death in horrific ways. When Peter writes to them to encourage them to be strong, he reminds them of some of the treasures they have. Find them in 1 Peter 1:3-7.
5. Pray here for the persecuted church.
6. Read Song of Songs 5:8-9
A. How does the bride respond to the beatings?
B. What question do the daughters of Jerusalem ask, and why, do you think?
Wednesday-Friday Sermon by Michael Reeves
Some of you may have already heard Dr. Reeves speak on this material — but this is a better recording and longer, ending with lovely prayers based on the Song that I so want you to hear and emulate. There’s an interesting discussion we can respond to on “Is love a choice?” For those of you married to men that may feel hard to love at times, there is hope.
6. Listen and share your notes and thoughts.
7. What do you remember about the discussion “Is love a choice?” Thoughts?
8. What do you think is the secret of experiencing the presence of Christ — even in the midst of trial?
These are two of my lovely friends who were on the cruise with me and whom you also know from the blog. What I see in each of them (and in many of you) is the joy of experiencing the presence of Christ. I even think you can see that joy, love, and peace in these pictures. Each of these women has suffered deeply, but they are confident of Christ’s love, and kept pressing into Him in the midst of their suffering. Each of them causes people to ask questions about their Lord — different variations of “How is your beloved better than others?” Each of them would be able to give an eloquent answer, for they have spent so much time beholding Him and know how beautiful He is. And they reflect His beauty as the moon reflects the sun. When I look at them, and when I look at the picture of the Coptic Christians on the beach, what I see is “God’s vineyard in bloom.”
9. Emulate the prayers at the end of Michael Reeve’s talk, praying The Song.
10. What is your take-a-way and why?