I Am Black, But Beautiful

January 15, 2006 / No. 3289

Dear radio friends,

     “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness” (II Tim. 3:16).

     Among the books of Holy Scripture is the book the Song of Solomon — a love poem between Solomon and his wife — a book that at times causes Christians to blush and to wonder, “What is the meaning of this book?”  This book, if you are acquainted with it, and perhaps this week you can become acquainted with it, is part of the Holy and authoritative Scriptures.  In the words of Jesus Christ in John 5:39, “These are they that testify of me.”  This book, the Song of Solomon, is written by the Holy Spirit to make plain to us and to make most lovely to us the relationship that exists between Christ, the husband, and us the church, His bride.

     The Song of Solomon, I said, is a poem of Solomon’s love for the Shunammite woman.  It is a representation through marriage of that beautiful and glorious union that God has made between us (the church, the believer) and Jesus Christ the Lord (the Bridegroom).

     The Song of Solomon, in the first chapter, begins with the words of the wife (or the church) as she expresses her love for Solomon her husband.  She wants to express this love for him and desires to show forth her love for him.  She speaks very swelling words, that she finds in him all things and that his name is as a precious box of ointment (whenever his name is mentioned, it is as if someone has opened a very beautiful box of ointment and the room is filled with pleasant odors).

     She goes on in the fourth verse to say that she desires to be drawn after him, that she may run after him and to be brought into his chambers.  She says that she is glad and she rejoices in his love.

     But then, in verses 5 and 6, the verses that I would like to consider with you, we read the following confession of the bride:  “I am black, but comely, O ye daughters of Jerusalem, as the tents of Kedar, as the curtains of Solomon.  Look not upon me, because I am black, because the sun hath looked upon me:  my mother’s children were angry with me; they made me the keeper of the vineyards; but mine own vineyard have I not kept.”

     Solomon’s wife, his bride there, is speaking to the daughters of Jerusalem.  We gather that the daughters of Jerusalem, as she is speaking swelling words of love for Solomon her husband, are looking at her with a look of disapproval or cynicism.  They say, “But look at you!  You are sunburned.  You are scarred by the sun.  You are black.  There are things in your past that are not pleasant.”  And she acknowledges it.  “Yes,” she says, “but I am beautiful.  Black, but I am beautiful in the eyes of Solomon, who loves me.”

     This is applicable.  This is salvation.  We, the church, who sing wonderful words of love to our Lord Jesus Christ, when we are looked upon in ourselves, we are weak and reproachful and scarred by sin.  We admit that.  It burdens us.  But we are beautiful.  All the children of God are beautiful in the eyes of Jesus because we are righteous in His blood.

     As I said, the daughters of Jerusalem have been standing by and have heard the bride’s vows of love and adoration for her husband and now are looking at her with cynicism — almost, we gather, with a sneer — at best with a questioning eye.  She says to the daughters of Jerusalem, “Look not upon me because I am black.”  They have fixed their eye upon her and looked her up and down.  And in their eyes they were saying, “But you’re not what you claim to be.  You don’t measure up to the love that you have just confessed for Solomon.”

     The daughters of Jerusalem in this book and in our verse for today should not be taken to represent bitter-hearted enemies to the church and to godliness.  But we should look at them as representing those who have little understanding, not yet fully-grown Christians.  We will meet them again in this book (chapters 5 and 6), where they admit that they are ignorant of the husband Jesus Christ or, at least, where Solomon could be found.  They are daughters of Jerusalem, they are true children of God, but are not yet able fully to understand all the beauties of faith in Jesus Christ.  Faith is being formed in them.  They have many questions and gaps in their understanding.

     But they are sensitive to one thing.  Inconsistency.  Inconsistency in the bride, inconsistency in those who confess great swelling for Jesus and do not demonstrate that in their life.  The bride did not measure up, in their eyes, to all that she was saying.

     She says, “The sun hath looked upon me.”  She says, “I have been a keeper of the vineyard,” that is, she is a poor, humble, maiden girl in her origins.  They would gather, from the words that she is speaking, that she was a royal, wonderful queen with rings on her fingers and robed in splendor and skin that did not show any sign of wear or exposure to any of the elements.  But instead, they look at her and they see that she has been in the sun.  Instead of that royal gown, that startling dress, evidently she is wearing the clothes of a maiden girl.  Her hair is not glamorous and made up perfectly.  Perhaps she has a scarf woven around her head, for she has been in the vineyards.  “You don’t look like what you say you are,” they say to her.

     Is this not so?  Is it not so, when we bring this to the realm of the spiritual, to the eyes of a child and to the eyes of one who is new in faith, that, at times they must fight back being cynical when they hear us confessing great love for Jesus and yet know us as we appear daily in our lives?  We must remember one thing about especially a new convert.  A new convert to Christianity is always sensitive to inconsistencies.

     Perhaps you have seen that even when your own child looks at you.  Now, children, you may never look at someone with scorn.  But perhaps your children have looked at you with a look that tells you that they are seeing the glaring inconsistency between the words of your confession and praise for Jesus and what you actually are at home.

     Beloved, we are not yet what we say.  We have not arrived.  We confess in this book, Song of Solomon, that the love of Jesus is better than all things.  Yet, the picture of our love for Jesus is so often distorted and contradictory, is it not?  And what shall we say?  Shall we deny that?  Shall we turn on our heels and say, “Ha!  What are you talking about?”  Shall the queen here (the wife of Solomon) turn on her heels before these daughters of Jerusalem and say to the royal guards of Solomon, “Have these impudent women locked up in chains.  Drag them away from me!”  Shall we, in pride, say, “It is not so.”  No, Solomon’s bride admits it:  “I am black,” that is, sunburned.  “The sun has shined upon me.  My skin is wrinkled.  I have been out in the vineyards.  But I am comely —as the tents of Kedar, as the curtains of Solomon.”  She was humble.  She was grieved.  She believed that in her husband’s eyes she was beautiful.

     There is Hebrew poetry here.  I am black (or sunburned) as the tents of Kedar; I am comely (beautiful) as the curtains of Solomon.  The tents of Kedar refer to shepherds’ tents.  Kedar was where the Ishmaelites and their descendants lived.  They were Bedouins.  They made their tents from the hair of goats, woven goats’ hair, which under the rain and under the sun soon turned dull and black and rather beaten.  She sensed it.  She said, “Yes, this is true of me.  I show much wear.  I acknowledge it.  There are many corruptions within.  There are sufferings without.  I know that my appearance is not consistent.  And I can see, daughters of Jerusalem, that you would stumble at this.  I love Solomon.  His love to me is all things.  I am his queen.  But I know that, of myself, I don’t measure up to this.”

     We acknowledge that.  May God forbid that we shrug this off and say, “Well, that’s the way it is.  You had better get used to it.”  That is blasphemy.  If you see the inconsistencies in your Christian life and just comfort yourself by saying, “Well, that’s just the way it’s got to be right now,” that is blasphemy!  No, we are to grieve over our weaknesses.  While we praise and honor Jesus Christ our Savior, we confess that inside we are yet sinners, we are corrupt in our flesh, and every sin lurks within the depths of our hearts.  We do not measure up.  We have much weaknesses.  We do not serve God with the zeal as we are bound but have daily to strive with the weaknesses of our faith.

     More, there is weakness in the church as a body.  There is weakness in love.  There is weakness in the ardor of our worship.  There is weakness in our relationship one to another.  Still more, there are trials and sorrows in our life.  There is heaviness.  There is depression.  There is weakness.

     You see, Solomon’s bride was not a love-blind, naïve woman who wore blinders from her forehead down.  She knew full well what she was.  She knew her past and she knew her heart.

     As you enter into the chamber of the fellowship of Jesus Christ, as His love brings you close to Himself, and then the eye of your conscience begins to look you up and down and raises its eyebrow and says, “But you are far from what you should be,” what do you say?  The bride of Jesus Christ admits it.  That is true.

     The bride gave a full explanation for her present imperfections in verse 6.  She did not give an excuse.  She did not try to shift the blame.  But she spoke in a way that the daughters of Jerusalem could understand why she appeared the way she did.

     We want that.  We want that for young converts.  We want that for children.  And we want to say these things about ourselves because we need to repent from them.

     But there are some things that you must know about the bride of Jesus Christ on earth, the church.  And there are some things you must know about believers.

     In verse 6, as I said, she gives three explanations for her present weaknesses.  They are weariness, opposition, and downright failure.  She says, “Look not upon me,” that is, do not despise me because I am black (or sunburned), “because the sun hath looked upon me.”  As I said, Solomon’s wife, the Shunammite, had not lived a pampered life among nobility.  She had been out under the sun.  I find in that figure of being out under the sun (with the marks of the sun upon you) used in Scripture as a sign of weariness and draining.  The Lord spoke of those who bore the heat of the day.  In the Old Testament prophets we read that we go through a dry and thirsty land, that we seek the shadow of a great rock in a weary land.  The Christian life is now lived under the battle of sin, weariness, and struggle.  And they come to us in every aspect of our life.  There are many times that we feel drained.  We feel exhausted.  We feel ourselves weary.  The church of Jesus Christ in the world is out under the sun.  We are not resting in the shade right now.  So often in our weariness, our zeal for the Lord fades.

     Secondly, she explains her present condition and weaknesses as due to opposition.  She says, “My mother’s children were angry with me; they made me the keeper of the vineyards.”  I gather that she means that her brothers and sisters were jealous with her for having received Solomon’s special love and attention and they forced on her the worst job — servile work, hard work in their own vineyards.  Because she was united to Solomon in love, she had suffered for that union.  This is the life of the Christian and of the church right now on earth.  Not everyone loves our Lord Jesus Christ, our King and our Husband.  And if you love Him, there will be opposition.  The Lord said, “A man’s foes shall be they of his own household.”  He said, “Daughters shall rise up against their mother.”  When Christ loves you, the world of sin will hate you, and you will experience opposition.

     The third reason she gives for her present weakness is her failure.  She says, “But mine own vineyard have I not kept.”  There was failure.  Yes, there were conditions of weariness and opposition.  But she had a vineyard.  She had something she was called to manage.  And she didn’t keep it up.  Her sin was neglect of her own vineyard.

     As Christians, we too are given a vineyard, we are given a place that we are to dress and to prune and to weed and to grow fruit.  We have our own life of devotion, our spiritual life, our prayers, our Bible readings, our cares for our family, our spiritual life of good works.  And so often we find ourselves, under our weariness, neglecting our own vineyard.

     Now do you see the bride of Jesus Christ, the church, the Christian who is being drawn into the love of God?  She is weary, and opposed, and characterized by failure.

     Does a cynical eye say, “Well, how can that be the bride of Jesus Christ?  They talk about loving Jesus and look at them!”  Is that what you say?  Is that the way you look at the church?  With scorn?  The church of Jesus Christ admits with sorrow, “Yes, yes.  We so often are weary and do not serve Him with the zeal as we are bound.  We experience opposition before which of ourselves we quickly wilt.  And we are sinfully negligent.”

     Take a look at the church now on earth.  Take a look at yourself.  Take a look at the church, the wife of Jesus Christ, who, in this book He will kiss with the kisses of His love, the church, to whom He opens the perfumed box of His name and tells them of the great salvation that is theirs.  This church, of itself, does not measure up.  But it is beautiful.

     She says, “Yes, I am black, but comely.”  The word “comely” is “beautiful.”  She knew it.  She knew she was beautiful and she was assured of it.  Solomon’s bride knew she was beautiful in his love.  She knew that, to him, she was lovely.  And it was his love that gave her unshaken confidence.  Throughout the poem Solomon tells her how he sees her.  In verse 15 of the first chapter, “Behold, thou art fair, my love; behold, thou art fair.”  In 4:7:  “Thou art all fair, my love; there is no spot in thee.”  She says, “In his eyes, I am beautiful.  I am as beautiful as the curtains of Solomon.  As beautiful as the tapestry of the beautiful hanging rugs in a king’s palace.”  The curtains of Solomon refer to the intricate, rich tapestry, the thick, soft, woven rugs hung for their beauty and their value.  She was both.  She was as an old tent of bleached goat-hair.  And she was also as stunning as an embroidered, woven, silk curtain in Solomon’s palace.

     The church is beautiful, not of herself, but in the love that Jesus has to her.  The church is attractive to Jesus Christ as she is dressed in the coverings of His righteousness.  All of our corruption and our sins and our failures and our neglect — all of these things He knows and has taken to His cross and forgiven them, and in His own blood and perfect obedience He has made up a beautiful gown for His queen, the church — a beautiful, stunning dress.  He has put a crown on her head and a ring on her finger and set a table of celebration and a wedding feast.  This is how He sees the church, purchased in His blood, given His Word and truth, gathered in humility before Him Lord’s Day after Lord’s Day.  This is how He sees you — altogether lovely, my fair one; there is no spot in thee.

     Our Lord Jesus Christ is not naïve.  He is not a blinded man.  He is the holy Son of God.  He sees in us His righteousness.  He sees in us the love of His Father.  He loves us so much that it makes us blush.  He loves us so strongly, so amazingly, so graciously that we simply cannot understand it.  Who would love the way He loves?  Who would love whomHe has loved?  He has given Himself to hell for such filthy, vile sinners as ourselves.  I cannot understand that!  I cannot get my mind around that.  My heart simply cannot contain that wonder and that marvel.  But I am assured of it.  As much as I know that I am a sinner and that I am weak and black and show the blackness of my own heart in my own sin, I also know His love and His righteousness and the fact that, in Him, I am beautiful.  The church is beautiful to Christ as she appears in His grace and love.

     And then, let us, with the bride, look at the daughters of Jerusalem and say to them:  “Let us go and rejoice in His love.”

     Let us pray.

     Father, we thank Thee for Thy Word, pure and holy.  We pray that on this day it may be applied to our hearts.  Deliver us from all pride — a pride that would condemn the weakness that we see in the church, forgetting that this weakness dwells in our own hearts.  Give us ever to see the church as the bride of Jesus Christ, precious in His love and beautiful in His righteousness.  Wilt Thou, O Lord, then revive us so that we may not become weary, that we may serve Thee with zeal, that we may not faint at the opposition that comes to us in the confession of Thy name, and that we may not be negligent of the calling given to us in this world but rather, as the wife of Jesus Christ, may we in the power of His love do all things that are pleasing to Him, that Thy name and Thine alone might be glorified in the church, throughout all ages, world without end.  Amen.