The Time of the Singing of Birds
"Rise up, my love, my fair one, and come away" (Song of Sol.2:10).The Song of Solomon is poetry. It is not a treatise on doctrine, neither is it a book on prophecy. It should not be viewed as the visions of the prophets, symbolic pictures each element of which is intended to delineate some aspect of the future outworking of the Divine Plan. It is a poetic drama in which the two central characters sing and act the love which exists between them. But their singing and their acting faithfully mirrors the relationship which exists between Christ and his Church. Because of that there can be little doubt that this idyllic song is intended by the Holy Spirit to present to every lover of the Lord a picture of that relationship which could not be so well expressed in the more prosaic language of doctrine or even in the impassioned symbolism of prophecy. And for this reason it is possible to detect behind the poetry a shadowy image of the Church in her waiting time and the coming of her Lord to take her to himself.
Each little section of the song is one little cameo, presenting one or another aspect of that mystic relationship. Successive sections do not necessarily connect one with the other. Sometimes a section stands distinct by itself. Verses 8 to 13 of chapter 2 form one such distinct section, and the poetic picture it presents is one that is dear to the hearts of all the Lord's disciples; the union of the Church with the Lord at the end of her experience in the flesh.
It may be nothing more than an analogy. It may only be a reading of already established doctrine into what is perhaps a poetic fantasy; but the application fits and if it can thus clothe an expectation already held with the delicate colours of a poetic reverie then it can in some small measure help to encourage and inspire in the Christian way.
"The voice of my beloved!" exclaims the Bride. She does not see him as yet, but she hears the tones of his voice speaking to her, calling to her, from beyond the Veil. He is coming, and she knows he is coming, and her heart thrills at the prospect "Behold, he cometh leaping upon the mountains, bounding (not "skipping") on the hills." Here is an intimation not given us in the more sober prophetic descriptions of his Coming which denotes the eagerness, almost the impatience with which he comes at the Age's end to claim his Bride. "Behold, I come quickly" he said to John the Revelator. The prophet, watching diligently for his coming, cries out "How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him that bringeth good tidings....that saith unto Zion, Thy God reigneth" (Isa.52:7). "His feet shall stand in that day upon the mount of Olives" said Zechariah (14:4). This is the Lord on the way to take his Church to himself.
What is the first intimation of his arrival? Does he come along the broad high road, with sound of trumpets and a vast array of attendants? Does he come as in the parable, by night with lanterns and shouting, to the close‑ shut house where the Bride is waiting? Not in this delicate song does he thus come, "Behold, he standeth behind our wall, he looketh in (not "forth") at the windows, shewing himself through the lattice" (vs.9). He comes quietly, unobtrusively, not with loud knock on the door, but as it were semi‑hidden behind the house wall, seen only dimly through the curtains which shroud the windows. "Lattice", the only occurrence of the word in the O.T., means a net or network, and probably refers to a window‑covering which lets in the light but obscures clear sight. "Shewing" denotes to glance forth, to look by stealth, as through the holes of a veil. How better can one describe the initial unseen phase of his Advent, that span of time leading up to the full end of the Age, when the "watchers" realise by the signs of the times that the event is upon them and that the powers of Heaven are already intruding upon the affairs of men and gathering the nations to the battle of the great day of God Almighty? How better describe the coming of our Lord in his Divine spiritual glory into the world of men, this creation of space and time, to gather his Church silently and unnoticeably to himself? He is standing just out of sight behind the wall; but he is there. His form can just be made out behind the curtains, all but invisible; but he is there. Later on he will be fully manifested, for "every eye shall see him" (Rev.1:7) but for the present he is unseen, there behind the wall, shrouded by the curtains, but he is there. "I come as a thief" He told John (Rev.16:15) and a thief comes not through the door, but by means of the windows, as said Joel (2:9).
But though unseen the Bride hears his voice. "Rise up, my love, my fair one, and come away. For, lo, the winter is past, the rain is over and gone; the flowers appear on the earth; the time of the singing of birds is come, and the voice of the turtledove is heard in our land. The fig tree putteth forth her green figs, and the vines are in blossom; they give forth (their) fragrance. Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away" (vs.10‑13 [Part KJV/RSV]). The time has come for the Bride to be joined to her Bridegroom and taken to her new home, for the Church to leave this earthly scene and be "changed" to the glorious spiritual life and sphere which is to be her lot throughout eternity. This is the call which all who truly love the Lord are awaiting.
"The winter is past, the rain is over and gone." What can the winter be but the whole of human history from the Fall, this dark time of man's subjection to the "rain"—sin and all its consequences in misery, disease, death. In the days of Noah the wickedness of men was so great that God saw that every imagination of the thoughts of men's hearts was only evil, and that continually. In the days of Abraham, the world was given to idolatry and the Lord could find only one man for his purpose. When Moses met with the Lord on Sinai and made a covenant with God on Israel's behalf, it was not long before Israel had broken and repudiated the covenant. Christ appeared, and the nation to whom He appeared rejected him. During the whole of this present Age, of all those who have taken the name of Christ the many have been apostates and only the few faithful. The rain has been heavy and continuous and the winter has been long, but now the winter is past and the rain is over and gone; the genial days of summer are at hand.
"The flowers appear on the earth." These are the signs of the Millennial reign of Christ due to commence directly he has taken his Church to himself. The desert shall rejoice, and blossom as the rose, says Isaiah. The sunlit beauty of Eden will return and the dark days be no more. Both Ezekiel and John saw the vision of the River of Life flowing from the dwelling place of God, and the Trees of Life on either side nourished by the waters of the river and yielding fruit for the spiritual sustenance of mankind and leaves for their healing.
"The time of the singing of birds is come". There are two occasions when the singing of birds is more than usually noticeable. One is in the early dawn when the light of a new day is commencing to overspread the earth and the birds herald it with the well‑known 'dawn chorus'. The other is in the springtime when the world is entering upon its annual time of the springing up of new life. So it is here; the Dawn of the New Day, the coming of what will be for all mankind the acceptable year of our Lord, the promised Times of Restitution of all things, this is heralded by the singing of birds. And what is this singing? There are two Hebrew words used to express the act of singing. One is rinnah which denotes singing in general without the particular kind of song and the other is zamir which means to sing praises. And here in this text it is the word zamir that is used. The singing of praises is here intended. Who are they who sing praises at the dawn of the Millennial (new) Age. "Thy watchmen shall lift up the voice; with the voice together shall they sing: for they shall see eye to eye, the LORD returning to Zion" (Isa.52:8) [KJV when the LORD shall bring again Zion]. There is a wonderful vision in the 14th chapter of Revelation in which the entire Church in the flesh is pictured as standing on Mount Zion singing a new song which no man could learn save those who are Christ's and have pledged themselves to his service; and that song is the prelude to a series of world‑wide messages starting with the announcement of the coming Kingdom, and calling on men to believe because the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand, continuing with the declaration of judgment upon the anti‑Christian institutions of the world, and concluding with the revelation of our Lord at his Second Advent coming in royal power to conduct the harvest of the Age, the gathering of his saints, and the execution of Divine judicial condemnation upon all that opposes his Kingdom. This is the song, the whole content of dispensational truth, "Present Truth" as Peter called it (2 Pet.1:12) due to be proclaimed at this end of the Age. In very truth, the time of the singing of birds has come.
"And the voice of the turtle‑dove is heard in our land." (RSV) The voice of the dove was heard on one memorable occasion in the past. When Jesus left the baptismal waters of Jordan, the Holy Spirit descended upon him "in bodily shape like a dove" and there came a voice from heaven "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased". That is the only instance in all the Scriptures of the Holy Spirit being likened to an earthly creature. The voice of the dove; the voice of the Holy Spirit. Nothing at all that the disciples of Christ have proclaimed or achieved in this closing period of the Age could have been so done without the underlying inspiring and energising power of the Holy Spirit. Our Lord told his disciples that he would be with them, even to the end of the Age. He further said that although he must needs in his personal presence return to his Father he would nevertheless send them the Holy Spirit which would abide with them until he should again be present at his Second Advent. So the Holy Spirit has been the channel of Divine guidance and revelation through all the centuries of Christian history until the present. The knowledge we have of the Divine Plans for mankind, the knowledge of our own place and service in those plans; the knowledge of the imminence of our Lord's coming again and all the changes that are associated therewith; all this has been imparted to us by the Holy Spirit, which our Lord said would guide us into all truth and show us things to come. Truly the voice of the turtle‑dove has been heard in our land.
"The fig tree putteth forth her green figs." For many centuries it has been recognised that in Scripture the fig tree is used in prophetic symbol to present God's earthly covenant people, Israel. Examples of this appear in Jer.24:1‑8, Joel 1:7,12 and Hosea 9:10. Our Lord used the same symbol in his parable of the fruitless fig tree in Luke 13:6‑7 and an obvious prophetic allusion in Matt.24:32‑33. Now this fig tree is putting forth her green figs. Under normal conditions a great many unripe figs remain on the tree throughout the winter and then ripen very early the following year, becoming large and ready for plucking in March or April, just as the new leaves begin to appear and Spring is at hand. These figs were called paq, green figs, to distinguish them from the later summer crop. Here it is said that the fig tree "putteth forth" her green figs. This word "putteth forth" is chanat which means to mature or preserve. It is used only four other times in the O.T. and there rendered "embalm". So we have come to a time which the fig tree has matured her fruit, which has been developing throughout the winter but in an unripe condition; now it is spring and the fruit is ripe and mature and ready for use. What better picture is there of Israel being regathered and made ready for her future Millennial work, Jesus said that when we saw the fig tree putting forth her leaves we were to know that the time is at hand; this is what he meant. The prophet Habakkuk vowed that even if the fig tree did not blossom and no fruit appeared on the vine he would still believe and expect the Kingdom of Heaven in God's due time; in this our day we see the sign of the fig tree which assures us that his faith was not misplaced. So, now that the singing of the birds and the voice of the turtle‑dove have given their testimony to the imminence of the Day of Christ, the maturing of the green figs adds an outwardly perceptible testimony to the verity (truth) of all that the Scriptures foretell.
"The vines are in blossom; they give forth (their) fragrance." (RSV) Here is something that must come to its fruition in a later season. The fig trees are bearing their fruit but the vines as yet are only in blossom; the time of harvesting the fruit is a little later on. But the blossom is giving forth its fragrance, an earnest of that which is to come. In Old Testament days the vine also was a symbol of Israel, but a vine that had to be rejected and cast away because it failed to bring forth fruit (Isa.5:1‑6; Jer.2:1‑22; Hos.10:1). Our Lord gave this theme a New Testament setting and declared that the highest calling of all, to be joint heirs with Christ in the heavens, was denied them because of that failure and the privilege given to the Christian Church of this present Age. (Matt.21:3‑41). So the vines which are now in blossom and giving forth their fragrance are the members of the Church, believers in Christ, dedicated to his service and endeavouring in all ways to be conformed to his likeness. The time of fruitage is not yet; the Master Reaper has not yet gathered his own into the heavenly storehouse. We are still in the flowering stage but that is evidence that the time of harvest is not very far away. And it does not take very much imagination to sense that the fragrance can only be the fruits and graces of the Spirit which we, the branches of the Vine (John 15:5) are developing within ourselves and manifesting to others around us while life endures, "The fruit of the Spirit" says our mentor, Paul, "is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance" (Gal.5:22‑23). These things constitute the fragrance which the vine blossoms give forth now; in a later day the fruit of the vine will be for the life of all mankind, for the "Spirit and the bride say, Come...And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely" (Rev.22:17) The earnest expectation of the creation, says Paul again, waits for the manifestation of the Sons of God.
So, our beloved One stands there, behind the wall, looking in at the windows, hidden from sight by the curtains, but—he is there. He has come to call his own to himself, to take them and present them before the presence of the Father with exceeding joy, to accompany them into that wonderful but unimaginable experience which the Book of Revelation calls the marriage of the Lamb, preparatory to appearing with them to all the world for the world's salvation. He comes, at last, to take his Church to himself and so set in motion that chain of events which is to characterise the final end of human probation and culminate in the fulfilment, at last, of the Church's age‑old prayer "Thy will be done in earth as it is done in heaven". He stands there, behind the wall, and his accents come, soft and low, but pregnant with meaning, "Rise up, my love, my fair one, and come away".