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Paul J. Bucknell
5 I am black but lovely, O daughters of Jerusalem, Like the tents of Kedar, Like the curtains of Solomon.
6 Do not stare at me because I am swarthy, For the sun has burned me. My mother’s sons were angry with me; They made me caretaker of the vineyards, But I have not taken care of my own vineyard. (Song of Solomon 1:5-6, NASB).
Excitement often gives way to discouragement which comes through different problems or barriers that attempt to deny the excitement of gratification. In this case, like many, the lovely maiden has discovered that she is not so lovely. Her skin is dark from being out working under the sun (SS 1:6). She was caught up in the excitement that she might be desirable, but then when reevaluating herself found ways in which she was quite undesirable.
This kind of thought can come from the outside such as from friends, but often, they come from within as in this case. She responds to those inaccurately or at least incomplete thoughts instead of her value of being a woman made in the image of God.
She responds to these maidens’ excitement by reflecting on the impossibility of it ever happening. She just looks at her skin and sees how the sun has darkened it. Many young women wouldn’t be able to readily understand this because they try to get a ‘tan’. They like being dark. This is because they are already on the inside. They can simultaneously live a life with education and greater privilege of our modern society. She, however, remembered that her skin reflected her poor background. She reflected the harsh outside environment rather than the more delicate touch of man's protected world inside buildings. We can only guess at the tents of Kedar and the curtains of Solomon must have been a dark color much like her skin. In verse 6 she actually calls herself ‘black’' She continues and explains that the sun has darkened her skin. To make things worse, her siblings picked on her and forced her to tend the vineyard in the harsh sun (similar to David’s situation). She had no way to spend time or money to take care of her own body.
In these statements, we find the first of three stages of evaluation. They all come from a reconsideration of herself in light of her desire for companionship. In the end, companionship allows us to look at ourselves from another’s perspective. This first stage arises from physical attraction. This is often because the attraction to another is usually before the two have the opportunity to know the other person. It is sight-oriented.
She sees herself as attractive, but her circumstances have caused this natural gifting to be spoiled. Perhaps this focus on physical beauty is illusive but, on the other hand, God made each of us distinct. We also need to remember that a deeper understanding of our lives comes through thoughtful examination usually through friends but also through knowledge of God's Word.
The most basic situation is this one where she sees what might cause one person to be interested in her. She would be wrong to flirt and show off. She should dress modestly and trust God that if he is the right one, God will cause him to be interested in her and follow her up.
What causes stress in this modest response to eager fulfillment is that she sees that she also has undesirable features. For some it’s acne, while for others it is a long nose, being too tall or small, being poor or rich, black or white, etc. The list never stops. We seek acceptance, but something obviously makes us unacceptable.
Of course, even though she might feel this way about herself, this does not mean that her potential lover would not overlook her imperfection. In fact, all of us have imperfections. Even the most beautiful people would grab the chance if they could change certain features about themselves. But, in the end, we should see that the love someone gives us is not due to our perfection. We will note three very important steps of transition of perspective, this one being the first. The other two are in 2:1-2 and 2:16-10. They all begin with “I am….”
Here she said, “I am black, but lovely.” She saw herself first as unacceptable but then possibly having a chance.
When we think about our relationship with God and how His love for us opens our eyes toward ourselves, we also discover that this is the way we often think about ourselves. We discover and focus on our inadequacies, all those things that would keep us from God. God couldn’t love me with all my sins. God wouldn’t want me.
God wants to keep us from the delusion that acceptance is based on our loveliness. It is true. We are far from perfect. We will not move God by our perfection of thought, word, feature, or action. There are just too many discolored things in our lives to make ourselves lovable before Him. The self-esteem movement is hung-up by pretending that we are beautiful and good when we are not. We are not desirable. The sooner we face the facts, the quicker we can get on with life.
How should this girl respond? If she popped into our age, she would be told to think, “You are beautiful.” But she would respond back, “But I'm black.” They shout back, “No, you must tell yourself that you are beautiful and then you will be!” In fact, we need to accept our limitations and even begin to praise God for them for they are given to us to shape our hearts which is more important than our bodies, keeping us from the delusion that acceptance is based on our loveliness. Eroticism is based only on the pleasure one gives another, but it is not true love.
She should respond by admitting she is black but lovely. In other words, she rightly responded. It is good for her to know that something more than her body would confirm a deep and intimate relationship. She should be willing to give up any guy who is merely after her body for he wants no true part of her soul.
The same is true before God. A person works hard trying to make himself look presentable to God, hence our many religions. The scriptures point the opposite way. They tell us how sinful we are. Romans 3:10-11 says, “As it is written, ‘THERE IS NONE RIGHTEOUS, NOT EVEN ONE;THERE IS NONE WHO UNDERSTANDS, THERE IS NONE WHO SEEKS FOR GOD’” (Romans 3:10,11, NASB).
“Good works are not the way to get on God's good side. 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, that no one should boast” (Ephesians 2:8,9, NASB).
We are made in God’s image but greatly stained. We are like a valuable bottle that is broken. We should give up trying to act as if God should accept us as we are. That is a game that will never work out because it is dishonest. God starts with the truth but continues in love.
Only when we see and accept our imperfections, love’s true nature can be discovered. “Blessed are the poor in spirit” (Mat 5:3). People say that infatuation is blind to another’s fault. This is true and can be good or bad. If by blind we mean they never saw the faults until they got married, they will be in for a complete shock and many admittedly are shell-shocked. “I married her?” “He is a different person than I married!”
True love, however, though detecting the imperfections will still love them. In this case, the person knows what they are getting involved with by marrying another. One knows that their love will be challenged but accepts it.
Following our first lesson, desire awakens us to another person’s presence. We will be excited at the possibility of being close to that awesome person. There will no doubt be challenges to our hoped-for relationship, but we can trust God regarding it. If anyone wants to be close to us, we need to be humbled admitting true love in action. Otherwise, we will operate out of pride thinking that others ought to love us but not being aware of our needed love and service to them. This is the thought behind Ephesians 2:9, “That no one should boast.”
Man will find his desire for God to be good. But the pathway there can be treacherous. For man has historically, even pervertedly, insisted that his religion is acceptable to God. Man feels that God ought to accept him. But we will never get close to God this way. God sees the corruptness and undesirability. God solves this problem of incompatibility not by overlooking our faults, for this would, in the end, lead to a fake relationship which would of necessity end in judgment, but instead brings mankind into a deep relationship with Him. God has His only Son, Christ Jesus, to die for His people. The stain is removed and though people are unworthy of God's love can obtain it just the same.
The root problem of many relationships is thinking that we are worthy of another’s affection and become demanding. When the facts are laid out before us, we find that we can be much more honest and humble. This will foster strong and intimate relationships with our spouses as well as with God.
7 Tell me, O you whom my soul loves, Where do you pasture your flock, Where do you make it lie down at noon? For why should I be like one who veils herself Beside the flocks of your companions? 8 If you yourself do not know, Most beautiful among women, Go forth on the trail of the flock, And pasture your young goats By the tents of the shepherds (Song of Solomon 1:7-8, NASB).
Although she sees herself as unworthy, these thoughts do not keep her from dreaming about her desires to be near to this man. She asks where this one can be found. Her desire for him gives her extra boldness to be near him. She doesn’t want to be hidden away never to be found.
Her companions, whether in thought or in reality we don’t know, act rather haughtily. Perhaps before they thought of the girl as one of them. They all loved the shepherd. They all would want him to approach them, but now that she speaks so boldly, they reproach her. In verse 8 they scoff at her and send her off alone to the shepherds.
All people, male and female, are made in God’s image but are greatly stained by their rebellious nature. We should give up trying to act as if God should naturally accept us, but treasure the thought that He desires to restore us through Jesus Christ. This is a miracle to delight in and restoring us to the image of God in Christ (2 Cor 4:4).