Bible reading for April 28 -- 29
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Apr 28 -- Song of Solomon 3 and Hebrews 3
Apr 29 -- Song of Solomon 4 and Hebrews 4
"You are altogether beautiful, my love; there is no flaw in you." (Song of Solomon 4:7)
THE BEAUTIFUL BRIDE. You may have noticed, there is a wedding theme running throughout Scripture. It begins with Adam's words, "...this at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh..." (Gen 2:23) and culminates in the wedding feast when "...the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready..." (Rev 19:7)(see also Psalm 45; John 2; Eph 5). I've officiated quite a few weddings over the years (75 at last count), and I can't remember a single ceremony where the bride wasn't beautiful! A lot of time, effort, and expense may go into that, but this hasn't changed in thousands of years -- brides want to be beautiful on their wedding day! And their husbands delight in the beauty of their brides. Some guys even faint! There seems to be a kind of magic -- or better, a grace from God -- in that first view of our bride coming down the aisle. I've been married over 45 years, and yet, when I look into my wife's eyes I still see the bride!
FOR SOLOMON the wedding day was the "the day of the gladness of his heart" (3:11). Most of chapter four is taken up with his admiration and praise for his bride. The Jewish metaphors he uses are not supposed to be pictoral (as in imagining a literal flock of goats), but rather evocative of the pleasurable and beautiful things in that world. Solomon uses beloved images taken from nature, wildlife, gems, herbs, even architecture, to describe his feelings of awe at her beauty. The "walled garden" (4:12-16) speaks of the exclusive nature of the marriage relationship in its intimacy, fulfillment, and joy. That metaphor still speaks to us today!
CHRIST'S BRIDE. The Church, the community of Christ's followers in all places and times, is called the bride of Christ. Everything good in marriage -- its closeness and intimacy, its unconditional acceptance, its companionship and delight, its enduring faithfulness and union -- foreshadows our eternal relationship with God through Christ. What makes the work of Christ so amazing is that it is the Groom himself who makes his bride beautiful. Our beauty as the bride of Christ is a holy beauty given to us by him. It is he who removes all the spots and blemishes and places his glory and splendor upon us:
"Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish." (Ephesians 5:25-27)
"Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready; it was granted her [lit., was given to her] to clothe herself with fine linen, bright and pure"- for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints." (Revelation 19:7-8)
REFLECT. All believers are betrothed to Christ and belong to him forever. But we must ask ourselves, how are we preparing for that marriage feast which is fast approaching? Our beauty must not be in our self-righteousness, or on our own terms. Nor are we to be passive or negligent in preparation. We must actively seek to be beautified in the ways Christ desires for us -- cleansed by his atoning blood, and walking in his ways of righteousness. Take a moment and listen to J. S. Bach's "Jesu, Mein Freude" as performed by the Netherlands Bach Society. And think about the lyrics by Johann Frank, could this be your prayer to the Lord?
source of purest pleasure,
friend most sure and true:
long my heart was burning,
fainting much and yearning,
thirsting, Lord, for you.
Yours I am, O spotless Lamb,
so will I let nothing hide you,
seek no joy beside you!"
"Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called 'today,' that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin." (Hebrews 3:12-13)
GREATER THAN MOSES (ch 3). The next comparison in Hebrews is with Moses. No other figure in the Old Testament stands larger than Moses. However, Jesus was more faithful in God's service than Moses. And Jesus' glory is greater than his (v 3). How much higher is Jesus than Moses? "Jesus has been counted worthy of more glory than Moses- as much more glory as the builder of a house has more honor than the house itself. (For every house is built by someone, but the builder of all things is God.)" (vv 3-4). Thus Jesus is glorified as creator, as God, meaning that he shares deity with the Father. There's an infinite distance between his glory and Moses' glory.
GREATER THAN JOSHUA (ch 4). Here Jesus is shown to be greater than the great Old Testament figure, Joshua. Joshua brought God's people victoriously into the promised land. Though their names have the same Hebrew root (meaning "the Lord is salvation"), Jesus rather than Joshua would lead his people into an eternal "rest" in the Lord of which the promised land is a foreshadowing. Israel's enjoyment of the peaceful rest of the promised land, a kind of Sabbath, was only partial and transient. In Christ we have found rest in his completed work of salvation, just like God's completed work at creation. We cease our rebellious works, and rest in his goodness. We cease from self-justifying works, and rest in the work of Christ alone. And after passing through the wilderness of this world we will rest in God's presence forever.
REFLECT. The main purpose of this epistle is to encourage believers not to yield to pressure to abandon the faith. We should never underestimate the seriousness of that unrelenting pressure, or take lightly the threat of opposition against us. We must not overestimate our ability to stand as individuals. Christian fellowship is one way God gives us strength. And that means more than attending church services once a week. The author says, "...exhort one another every day, as long as it is called 'today,' that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin" (v 13). Every day, he says! We need to give and receive encouragement daily. The New Testament is filled with "one another" commandments. This is why the fellowship of believers is so important -- we can speak truth to one another, and so help each other stay faithful to the Lord. Who have you encouraged today? Who has encouraged you today?
Image credit. Photo by Wu Jianxiong on Unsplash. About this newsletter: I post three times a week on my Bible reading, following the Robert Murray M'Cheyne (RMM) two-year reading schedule, as arranged by D. A. Carson. Subscribe at buttondown.email/Sandy. Scripture quotations, unless otherwise noted, are from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Another resource I recommend is the NET Bible with its excellent notes at netbible.org.