“Asleep, yet Awake”
Does our love for
the Lord still energize
us to follow Him?
In our previous Note (God’s Responsive Love), I mentioned that I have recently been reviewing C.A. Coates’ short commentary, An Outline of the Song of Songs, and that has been very helpful. (It is always good, I feel, to come back to the Song of Songs every couple of years or so for some extended study; in my experience it seems no other book can revive our love for the Lord as this one does.)
His comments on Song of Songs 5:2-3 I have found especially convicting. Here the Seeker has gone to bed; her Beloved comes to rouse her, but she refuses his call:
I sleep, but my heart is awake;
It is the voice of my beloved!
He knocks, saying,
“Open for me, my sister, my love,
My dove, my perfect one;
For my head is covered with dew,
My locks with the drops of the night.”
“I have taken off my robe;
How can I put it on again?
I have washed my feet;
How can I defile them?”
The problem here is not that the Seeker no longer loves the one who is calling her; he is still her “Beloved.” Moreover, though she is spiritually asleep, her “heart is awake,” so that she is able to hear his knocking and his calling and respond to it.
Nor is the problem that she has fallen into evil associations, or that she is somehow defiled, or has in some other way forsaken her Beloved. In fact, as we know from the previous chapters of the Song of Songs, at this point in her experience she is in an advanced spiritual state; even now her hands “drip with liquid myrrh” (v. 5).
Rather, the problem, as Coates points out, is that even though true affection is present, it has ceased to be an energizing factor in her being.
As a result, she is able to be in repose even though she is apart from her Beloved; she is at rest without him. And thus she says, “I slept.”
For any of us who have been in the Lord for a number of years, this is a very sober word to consider.
At the beginning of chapter 3 the Seeker had been in a somewhat similar state; after she had refused the Beloved’s call to follow him “in the clefts of the rock” and in “the secret places of the cliff,” she nonetheless sought him “night after night” on her bed (2:14-3:1). Coates comments regarding her failure then:
One may manifest a considerable degree of indifference to His love in the way of being reluctant to move with [Christ], and yet there may be a desire that He should be with us in our condition, and give us the comfort of His love there.
— Coates, pages 57-58
The basic principle of these two passages is the same: she desires to be at rest without her Beloved, and thus fails to answer his call to follow him. As a result, he departs from her.
Moreover, the issue here is much more serious than merely the Seeker’s own loss of enjoyment, for her failure also has a serious effect upon her Beloved. That is, due to her refusal to follow Him in chapter 5 he has become “homeless,” so to speak. This is seen in his head being “covered with dew” and his locks with “the drops of the night”; he must spend the night outside.
And of course, the Beloved in the Song of Songs represents the Lord Himself.
This seems to signify, then, that if we are in such a state of spiritual complacency the Lord cannot have His building, His church, among us. In the New Testament, Coates says, this situation is seen in the Lord’s warning to the church in Ephesus; even though it appeared to be fine outwardly, in reality it had lost its first love, so that He was about to remove its lampstand (Rev. 2:4-5).
So, the situation pictured here is indeed quite serious, both for us and for the Lord. And only a direct encounter with the Lord Himself can save us from it, as we shall see in our next Note.
The comments from C.A. Coates summarized in this Note are from pages 124-125 in the printed version of his commentary.
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— 12 February 2022 —