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God’s Word for You

Song of Solomon 3:7-8 The palanquin

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Sunday, November 19, 2023

7 Look! It is Solomon’s own palanquin
  with sixty warriors surrounding it,
  some of the heroes of Israel,
8 all of them wearing the sword,
  all experienced in battle,
  each with his sword at his side,
  ready for the terrors of the night.

A palanquin (rhymes with “Martin Sheen”) is a covered chair or litter on poles, a sedan chair carried by four or more bearers. The English word comes from the east Asian Sanskrit term palyanka, but the Hebrew word is mittah, which can also simply be “bed.” Since the word itself is feminine, it is the clearest answer to the question from verse 6, “Who is she, coming up from the desert?” Perfumed with frankincense and myrrh, it is a delightful conveyance, surrounded by warriors. The number sixty may or may not have any significance. It is probably the typical complement of the “fifty” group (2 Kings 1:9; Isaiah 3:3) along with its officers. But it is also double the number of David’s “Mighty Men” (2 Samuel 23:13; 1 Chronicles 12:4).

The honor guard are all armed with swords. They are not ceremonial; they are deadly weapons. Just two generations before, practically no one in Israel had a sword apart from a few notable exceptions like Saul and Jonathan (1 Samuel 13:22). They are hardly mentioned after the time of Abimelech the anti-judge (Judges 9:54), and we understand that the Philistines had seen to it, through murder, capture, vandalism, or kidnapping, that “not a blacksmith could be found in the whole land of Israel,” so that Israelites even had to pay the Philistines to sharpen their plows, axes, and hoes (1 Samuel 13:20). Now, after David’s time, Israel had an army fitted with weapons of every kind, so that even an honor guard like this one could all have swords.

For the moment, the fear of the approaching thing is matched by the strength of the friendly warriors guarding it. But we are still reminded that the warriors, “some of the heroes of Israel,” have fighting to do. They are “experienced,” that is, trained and taught, in warfare. They know what to do and they have done it many times. These are seasoned soldiers, not raw recruits. They are “ready for the terrors of the night.” What could such things be in the imagery of this moment? In fact, what is this moment?

The event seems to reflect a wedding celebration since Solomon’s own carrying-chair or palanquin has arrived. There isn’t any compelling reason to assume that Solomon himself is riding in it, since only the chair is actually described and not the king, although everyone will be called out to gape at his crown in a little while (3:11). Is it his wedding? The bride of the Song, the Galilean woman, who will be called “the Shulammite” in 6:13, is hardly presented as a queen of Israel, or even part of Solomon’s harem. When the Song makes a couple of references to Solomon, it’s always about things he owns—his tent (1:5), his palanquin (3:9), his crown (3:11), and his vineyard (8:11-12). Is he lending the chair to the couple to be carried off in style after the ceremony? Professor Brug compares Solomon here to a wedding guest, “the wealthy ‘uncle’ who lent the couple his limo for the day” (Song of Solomon, p. 45).

Another possible explanation that fits all of the mentions of Solomon as well as the three times when the bride calls her husband “king” (1:4; 1:12 and 7:5) is that “king” or “king Solomon” are a pet name she uses for her man. “You are my king” is not far from the fairytale use of “prince” for any woman’s fella.

In a godly, Christian, marriage, the wife treats her husband with love and respect, whether she calls him by his name, his title, or a respectful or playful pet name (“thy lord, thy king, thy governor,” Taming of the Shrew V:2). She does not demand the same for herself, because a couple that truly loves one another will also respect each other, and those things grow together, like ivy climbing up and twining itself around and beautifying the strong timbers of a safe house.

What is more, a couple should not be too extravagant with their spending for their wedding day. They should save for their marriage, not just for the day they get married. Too often it seems that the more expensive the wedding, the shorter the marriage. If an uncle can lend them a nice thing, it should be received with thanks, but not demanded.

In the mystic union of Christ and the church, the strength and protection of the sixty warriors is very much like the protection of the Lord’s called servants, “prepared for the terrors of the night.” This phrase is not just a poetic way of describing soldiers. It completely justifies all the concerns that were raised in verse 6.

God’s angels guard us with genuine power and authority. Our pastors, ministers, and teachers also guard us, armed with the Holy Scriptures, and with an oath to uphold the Lutheran Confessions. Our parents and godparents very probably took a similar oath for us personally when we were baptized. They protect us from false doctrine, from false teachers, and from our own errors when we fall into sin or slide into a sinful lifestyle. We should listen to them and take their warnings and encouragement to heart. Would we disregard the warnings of an angel? What happened to the sons-in-law of Lot when they thought it was all a joke? They paid with their lives and they died in the destruction of Sodom (Genesis 19:14, 24-25). But what if a Christian becomes concerned about the doctrine of a certain teacher or pastor? First: Be like the Bereans, and check what Scripture says about the points he makes. Using the catechism can be a handy reference for the chief teachings of the Bible: The Ten Commandments, the Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s supper, and the doctrine of the forgiveness of sins (that is, the ministry of the keys). If there is still a concern, ask him about it directly. Better to ask than to accuse. Perhaps he is being misunderstood. Finally, if there is truly a problem, consult with another pastor in the area—one of those men will be your Circuit Pastor or your District President. If there is an error somewhere, they will help you find out what it is and bring things to a good resolution. The Holy Spirit urges us: “Ask where the good way is, and walk in it” (Jeremiah 6:16). The good way, of course, is giving glory to God in all things, and looking to Christ alone for forgiveness and eternal life. Whatever sedan chair or palanquin may turn up to ease our lives for a moment, or whatever enemies may come billowing like smoke across the desert, our safety is always in Christ, and our thanks is always to him for everything he does. We can thank him every day as Luther taught us in his Morning Prayer: “I thank you, my heavenly Father, through Jesus Christ, your dear Son, that you have kept me this night from all harm and danger.” You are safe in God’s arms.

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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