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God’s Word for You

Song of Solomon 2:16-17 fast falls the eventide

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Sunday, October 29, 2023

The Wife

16 My lover is mine and I am his,
  he browses among the lilies.
17 Until the day breathes and the shadows flee,
  turn and be like a gazelle, my love,
  or like a young stag on the rugged mountains.

Verse 16 does not really spend much time on the imagery of the shepherd, but instead the bride uses the language of sexual intimacy. The lilies stand for her body. She is inviting him to make love with her. She reminds us all that a husband and wife possess one another; they are physically one. Paul says: “The husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to the husband. The wife’s body does not belong to her alone but also to her husband. In the same way, the husband’s body does not belong to him alone but also to his wife” (1 Corinthians 7:3-4).

But just as the two approach one another, he the gazelle to do the “browsing” and she the lilies to “be browsed among,” the language turns our attention away from them. Their intimacy is for them alone, and not for anyone else, so that no one will be tempted to sin against the Tenth Commandment.

There is time here, then, for a wholesome question to occupy our minds: When is it that “the day breathes and the shadows flee”? This could be dawn (the time when the deer flee from their resting places) or dusk (the time when the stag comes to browse). Brug offers the likely solution: “Perhaps the section is intended to be cryptic and mysterious” (p. 40). These were times when Christ went off to be by himself to pray (Matthew 14:23, 26:36; Mark 6:46). When we take time to occupy ourselves with the word of God—a thing many of us prefer to do when the day is not so busy, such as the morning or evening, when the day breathes and shadows flee, we occupy ourselves with the very best of things, and the word of God sanctifies our very study and reading. “At whatever time God’s word is taught, preached, heard, read, or pondered, there the person, the day, and the work are sanctified by it, not on account of the external work (that is, the teaching, preaching, hearing, etc.), but on account of the Word which makes us all saints” (Large Catechism).

And the same is true of marriage and the sexual union in marriage. For while there is “a shameful mess and cesspool of all kinds of vice and lewdness among mankind,” and all sorts of sexual sins are to be found everywhere, nevertheless God has given us marriage as the proper and only place for the sexual fulfillment between men and women. It is “a glorious institution and an object of God’s serious concern,” and so God sanctified the intimacy of husband and wife within marriage, and his wrath and the flaming sword of his holy law guard marriage and its sexual union, so that those who despise marriage, who sinfully shun marriage, or preach and teach against marriage, will be treated as blasphemers. They turn themselves into the worst kind of sexual perverts by turning people away from the wedding altar and the union God himself has instituted as holy and pleasing to him.

A final question to occupy our attention: What are the “rugged mountains” that bring us to the end of the chapter? In Hebrew, this is “the mountains of Bether,” an otherwise unknown mountain chain or group. Although a rather famous Bether or Bittir, seven or so miles southwest of Jerusalem, became famous in later Jewish history during the Bar Cochba revolt in 135 AD, there are many more well-known mountains almost anywhere in Israel for the bride to mention, and many that are closer to her home in Galilee. Perhaps “rugged” is a better translation. Since verse 17 continues the loving invitation that began with verse 16, she might be referring to her body once again, with her feminine curves a not-so-rugged mountain chain for her stag.

Who can grasp what our true union with Christ means? The divine bridegroom, Christ, marries this poor, miserable sinner, like a harlot in the streets, and he redeems her from all evil and presents her with all of his great goodness. “Her sins cannot now destroy her,” Luther writes, “since they are laid upon Christ and swallowed up by him. And she has that righteousness in Christ, her husband, of which she may boast as of her own and which she can confidently display alongside her sins in the face of death and hell and say, ‘If I have sinned, yet my Christ, in whom I believe, has not sinned, and all his is mine and all mine is his,’ as the bride in the Song of Solomon 2:16 says, “My beloved is mine and I am his.” This is what Paul means when he says in 1 Corinthians 15:57, ‘Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ,’ that is, the victory over sin and death.’”

And now the church is delighted to pray with the words of this verse:

Abide with me, fast falls the eventide.
The darkness deepens; Lord, with me abide.
When other helpers fail and comforts flee,
Help of the helpless, O abide with me.

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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