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Song of Solomon 1:5 ... but beautiful

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Saturday, September 9, 2023

The Wife
  5 Dark am I, but beautiful,
  O daughters of Jerusalem,
  dark like the tents of Kedar,
  like the outer curtains of Solomon’s tents.

The woman describes the way she looks. She is doing what any modest woman would do under the gaze of her man. She shows her modesty by admitting what she thinks or assumes are flaws. She does this in two ways. Here in verse 5, she talks about her sunburn. In verse 6, she will expand the image to taking care of vineyards, where her own vineyard is her own body, or at least the clothes she is wearing.

She is worried about her dark sunburn. She would like to have what she thinks of as a lovely, lighter tone, but she’s been out in the fields for many days, or maybe her whole life, and a hard-working woman will simply acquire a deep tan. She imagines that she is as darkly burned as the dark tents of the nomads of Kedar, or perhaps the curtains (outer tent curtains) of Solomon’s tents. The longer such tents were in use, the darker they would become. (In the days of sailing ships, British captains could tell French ships on account of the color of their sails from miles away; British blockades kept the French vessels in port, where their unused sails remained bright white while the British sails, constantly in use, would darken deep brown after months at sea.) The last line of the verse is important: She does not think of herself as worthless. If she has a sunburn, then it’s a deep tone like the tents of the king himself. She might be dark, but she adds, “But I am beautiful.” She can talk about having flaws, or daring someone to say she has flaws, but she is also confident about the gifts God has given her, including the gift of her beauty. This will continue to be a theme throughout the Song. We acknowledge what God has given to us and we are surprised that he even praises us for these things. We use his gifts to his glory.

She is really speaking to her friends, or thinks only her friends are in earshot, but her husband will answer her in a few verses, calling her “most beautiful of women” (1:8). Like any good man, he is colorblind about her skin. It doesn’t matter whether she is the color of soot or snow, or coffee or tea; she is his bride, his wife, and what matters is her heart, not her skin. The Bible does not acknowledge races based on skin color. In the Scripture, there is only one race: the human race. Over the years, some people have tried to make claims about the mark given to Cain or the curse spoken to Canaan as being the source of differences in skin color, but this is an interpretation of the Bible that isn’t based on the text. Perhaps it has the advantage of having no ties at all to grammar or to the meanings of Hebrew words in any lexicons. Mankind’s ideas about physical beauty should be treated with caution at all times, whether they include color or not. Beauty of any kind should produce happiness in general, as well as satisfaction. Whether it is a mouth that is lovely (Song 4:3), or a face (Song 2:14), or even a city (Song 6:4), beauty of any kind gives glory to God. Where God shines forth, that place or person is “perfect in beauty” (Psalm 50:2). But “never satisfied,” Dr. Brug writes, “light-skinned people flock to far-away beaches and tanning parlors and bake themselves to become darker, while some dark peoples apply skin-lightening cosmetics.”

What I have said before I will say again: In the Scripture, there is only one race: the human race. There are no preferences for any one skin tone over any others. Human beings are saved on account of their faith. They are damned on account of their unbelief. Whether they have dark skin or light skin, or ten fingers or nine, or are hairy or bald, or say “crick” or “creek,” does not enter into the question of their righteousness.

Does her reference to the daughters of Jerusalem imply that she, the bride, comes from another place? For now we will let this pass, but perhaps there will be a time to address this as a spiritual application later on in the Song.

To summarize: The bride is concerned about the way she looks. She seems to be practicing what she will say if her husband brings up her sunburn: I may be dark, but dark like the exotic tents of the nomads of Kedar—think of what treasures lie securely behind those dark-curtained tents of theirs! I may be dark, but so are the tent-curtains of King Solomon himself. Would you criticize anything of his? I may be dark, but I am beautiful! I am not ashamed of my appearance, for I am the way that God made me. And if, today, I have been sunburned on account of my work, then you have a hard-working wife!

The church, too, rehearses its flaws and confesses sin. Each of us, a church in miniature, brings our sins and flaws before God, who forgives us. We are not proud of our sins. We are ashamed of our sins! But when we have flaws in our bodies or lives, or if we think of things as flaws that have come on account of there being sin in the world that is not a sin of ours, we have no need to repent. If someone struck me because they mistook me for someone else, then I have nothing to apologize about. If I have one hair color or another, or one body shape or another, or one blood type or another, or some other physical attribute or another, it is on account of genetics through my parents. So I will repent over my inherited sin, but not my inherited hair or eyes. And if I am going a little bit deaf, or if I am growing a little forgetful, I can be sorry about this, but it is not a matter for repentance.

At the end of the day, let each of us be able to say, “Tired am I, but beautiful in your eyes, O Lord! I have done my work for you. Now grant me rest so that I can work again tomorrow. In Jesus’ name, Amen.”

In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith

Pastor Tim Smith
About Pastor Timothy Smith
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in New Ulm, Minnesota. To receive God’s Word for You via e-mail, please visit the St. Paul’s Lutheran Church website.


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