Friday, 27 August 2010

Dying Inside

From my last hermaneutics lecture:

In the mediaeval period the Song of Songs was one of the most commentated-on books in the Bible: the commentary was usually allegorical in nature.

A relatively late example of this approach is found in the writings of C.H. Spurgeon, the 19th-century British preacher.

We can consider his sermon on Song of Songs 1:13, preached in 1864.

This verse reads: ‘My beloved is to me a sachet or myrrh that lies between my breasts.’

Spurgeon begins by setting out his interpretative approach:

Certain divines have doubted the inspiration of Solomon’s Song; others have conceived it to be nothing more than a specimen of ancient love-songs, and some have been afraid to preach from it because of its highly poetical character. The true reason for all this avoidance of one of the most heavenly portions of God’s Word lies in the fact that the spirit of this Song is not easily attained. Its music belongs to the higher spiritual life, and has no charm in it for unspiritual ears. The Song occupies a sacred enclosure into which none may enter unprepared. “Put off they shoes from off they feet, for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground,” is the warning voice from its secret tabernacles.

He interprets the theme of the Song as the intimate love which the Christian believer may experience with the Lord Jesus. This is an allegorical approach.

He interprets Song 1:13 under the heads: (i) Christ is very precious to believers; (ii) there is good reason why he should be; (iii) mingled with this sense of preciousness, there is a joyous consciousness of possession of him; (iv) therefore there is an earnest desire for perpetual fellowship with him

In his detailed exposition of the verse Spurgeon applies the phrase ‘bag of myrrh’ to Christ in a variety of ways: it points to Christ’s preciousness, his pleasantness, the way he perfumes the believer’s life, his preserving qualities, his power to cleanse and heal.

In effect his interpretation involves asking two questions: What are the properties of myrrh? And (having answered that question): How does Christ demonstrate these properties?

But is this really the way to interpret the text, by engaging in a series of word associations?

Later on in the volume, expounding 2:13 (‘Arise, come, my darling; my beautiful one, come with me’), and following a similar kind of exegesis, Spurgeon applies the text to the failure of the church in England and Europe to disestablish itself in the decades after the Reformation.

Christians heard Christ’s call to ‘come with me’, but did not respond as fully and as trustingly as they should have done. (Spurgeon was a Non-Conformist, not a member of the established Church of England.)

This is all very interesting: but is it what the text is really talking about?
(Most commentators on the Song today would answer: No.)


I only just succeeded in restraining myself from laying hands on people....
What response would you have given?


dave bish said...

I'm enjoying Richard Sibbes on The Song too much to disagree with Spurgeon on this!

Anonymous said...

This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.

yemsee said...

dave - thanks so much for your sibbes stuff... brilliant!

Paul Blackham said...

As always Spurgeon is brilliant... at once a profound and careful exegete as well as being a genuine prophet. As far as I can see your lecturer perfectly illustrates the point that Spurgeon is making. Anyone who follows up all the references to myrrh in the Bible understands what Spurgeon is saying... and it is far from mere word association. He is taking seriously what the text actually says. If the phrase 'bag of myrrh' has any meaning at all... then why is the beloved like a bag of myrrh? What is true of a bag of myrrh? Why not a bag of incense or a piece of cedar or drops of olive oil? What are the associations of myrrh in the Bible... and, crucially, why was it one of the gifts from the Magi?

I cannot imagine how else we might begin to even think about this verse! Are we simply to speculate upon the aphrodisiac or 'viagra-like' properties of myrrh in the ancient world?!??!

Why did you restrain yourself from laying on hands. I'm pretty sure what Nehemiah or Elijah would have done in that lecture!

yemsee said...
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yemsee said...
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