Recently, a song came to mind that I sang in Sunday School when I was a child. At the time I didn’t know that the song, “His Banner Over Me is Love,” came from Song of Solomon. I learned this reading that book of the Bible as an adult. I think this song popped into my mind not because I read Song of Solomon, but rather Exodus 17:15, which states, “And Moses built an altar and called the name of it, The LORD Is My Banner. . .” I have since learned that the Hebrew word translated ‘banner’ in Exodus 17 is not the same word that appears in Song of Solomon 2:4.
I used to avoid Song of Solomon, even skipping over it when reading through my One Year Bible. But reading Charles Spurgeon made me think there might be something in that book for me, after all. So I read it in a manner similar to ripping off a Band-Aid. But the song echoing in my mind, made me want a better understanding of what was meant by, “His banner over me is love.” I have always pictured party decorations, but I know that isn’t quite right. This banner is supposed to be God’s love – or Jesus’ love. I wasn’t sure how this worked, but I had a feeling that if I dug deeper, it would reveal insight about my relationship with God.
You have set up a banner for those who fear you,Psalm 60:4-5
that they may flee to it from the bow.
That your beloved ones may be delivered,
give salvation by your right hand and answer us!
I discovered that the Hebrew word translated banner in Song of Solomon 2:4, is translated as standard in all other occurrences. These are all contained in the book of Numbers, describing the tribes of Israel setting out from the camp, each under its own standard. The picture is clear in my mind of each tribe being led and kept together by its flag being carried at the front. After consulting the concordance, I used my dictionary to inform my understanding of the words. Still, I was left wondering, is God’s love the banner, or is it that, in love, He places us under His banner?
My next step was to check the notes in my study Bibles. These were brief, and indicated that the banner was simply making public the love of the man and the woman in the song. My research makes me think that it references Solomon’s royal banner, the flag of his kingship. In having the woman eat at his banqueting table under his royal flag, he would be showing the people that she was to be included in the “royal family.” This is the kind of love that God shows to us when He chooses His children. He bids us to come and eat at His table and to be called sons and daughters of the King. It is more than just being part of the King’s army and marching under His battalion flag; we walk under the standard of His family and share in His inheritance.
After spending more than a week meditating on this and looking here and there for insights, I finally pulled out my copy of The MacArthur Bible Commentary. I read John MacArthur’s introduction to Song of Solomon, which indicated that he does not believe that the book is allegorical of either our own or the church’s relationship with God or Christ. This left me confused and disillusioned. On the one hand, I was back where I started. On the other hand, I was questioning the new perspective Spurgeon had been giving me. I know that the Bible has a lot to teach me about Who God Is; I know that it is valuable for me to study it. I hate to write-off any part of it as irrelevant to me. But, John MacArthur’s face-value interpretation is more how I tend to approach reading Scripture. Above all, I try to understand the Bible as a unified whole.
At midnight [Boaz] was startled and turned over, and behold, a woman lay at his feet! He said, “Who are you?” And she answered, “I am Ruth, your servant. Spread your wings over your servant, for you are a redeemer.”Ruth 3:8-9
An hour or so after consulting MacArthur, as I was wading through my confusion, another Scripture came to mind. I firmly believe that Scripture is God’s main way to communicate with me, and if it is coming to mind when I am not reading it, there is a good chance God is telling me something. In this case, what came to mind were the words that Ruth spoke to Boaz, that night at the threshing floor: “I am Ruth, your servant. Spread your wings over your servant, for you are a redeemer.” This can also be translated, “Spread the corner of your garment over me. . .” The book of Ruth is plainly about redemption and our Redeemer. The idea of the kinsman-redeemer in the Levitical law was not a mere coincidence alongside the story of redemption that God has been writing throughout history.
My research into Song of Solomon 2:4 didn’t end at all like I thought it would. But, whether or not I am under a banner of God’s love, I am covered by His love and mercy. I am redeemed. In love, I am sheltered under His wings! The exact meaning of a single verse, or even a whole book, isn’t going to change my life. But I do desire a change in my heart. I want God’s love to be more real to me. I want to feel it; I want to live like a woman who is loved and accepted, not one who is lonely, rejected, and starved for affection. Oh, Lord, spread the corner of your garment over your servant, for you are my Redeemer. Cover me with your love, that I may live publicly as a child of the King.