"White and Ruddy"
The well-known and much-loved description of the Beloved in chapter 5 of the Song is given in response to a question from the daughters of Jerusalem. The spouse has been speaking so much of her Beloved, and charging them concerning Him, that they ask, "What is thy Beloved more than another beloved?" Is there a certain impatience in their question? There were others after all, they were saying, and what was her Beloved more than they? Their question presents her with an opportunity to embark upon a delightful, detailed tribute to the excelling beauty of her Beloved, and devout believers everywhere have for centuries reveled in her Oriental imagery, using her language to extol the virtues of their Beloved, their Savior and Lord. It behooves us to be always as ready as she was to give answers to enquirers concerning our Beloved.
The Bride begins with a general appraisal of Him, but soon describes His beauties in detail, every feature being, of course, some facet of the glory of the Lord Jesus, our Beloved. In all that we have of Christ, in all the Scriptures, there is no description of His personal appearance, His physical features. In our minds there may be mental images, conjectures of His appearance, but there is nothing in Scripture. Perhaps God is more concerned with moral beauty than the physical, and this is what we have here: the personal glory and moral loveliness of Christ portrayed in the symbolic language of the East.
"My Beloved is white." The Hebrew word here rendered "white" is an adjective meaning "dazzling, bright, clear." On the Mount of Transfiguration the Saviors garments were "white as the light" and "exceeding white as snow." In Revelation 14:14 He is borne on a white cloud, and later in Revelation He rides on a white horse, and then sits on a great white throne (19:11; 20:11). It seems to convey an awful sense of purity, of unsullied holiness, of utter impeccability.
So was our Beloved in the days of His flesh. From His spotless infancy, through boyhood in the home of the carpenter in Nazareth, through three years and more of busy ministry and controversy, and into suffering and death, He remained the Holy One of God. He not only did not sin, He could not sin. This is the meaning of "impeccability," no ability to sin. There was nothing in Him that could be tempted to sin, nothing in Him to respond to evil suggestion or seduction. With confidence His people may say "My Beloved is white."
Without a trace of Adams sin,
As Man unique in origin,
All fair without, all pure within,
Our Blessed Lord!
So does the Bride begin. It is essential, it is fundamental, that He who died to be our Savior should be a spotless sacrifice, and so He was.
But now she adds, "and ruddy!" It is interesting to note that a cognate word is used of David, whose name also means "Beloved!" "He was ruddy, and withal of a beautiful countenance, and goodly to look to" (1 Sam 16:12; 17:42). The ruddy complexion is suggestive of activity and devotion in service. Those accustomed to the finery and luxury of palace and court were not ruddy, but the shepherd boy from Bethlehem spent his days and hours in the pastures with the sheep. His psalms reveal that both by day and by night he tended the flock (Psalms 8; 19; 23). He knew what busy service was, and his constant devotion to it no doubt resulted in a ruddy countenance.
And what of our Beloved, the greater Son of David? How devoted He was, completely consecrated to the will of God! As He made His advent He could say, "Lo, I come to do Thy will, O God" (Heb 10:9). During His ministry He told His disciples, "My meat is to do the will of Him that sent Me" (John 4:34), and at the end of His lovely life He said, "Not My will, but Thine, be done" (Luke 22:42).
The devotion of the Son to the will of the Father took Him to the agonies of Golgotha. He was obedient to that will right to death, and that even the death of the cross. We see Him uplifted, shedding His precious blood for others, for us, and as we look on the blood-stained form of the sinless sufferer we say, "My Beloved is white, and ruddy."
It is not surprising that the Bride should then add, "Chiefest among ten thousand." Her thought is that He is as conspicuous among others as a standard bearer would be among ten thousand uniformed men. Davids men once said to him, "Thou art worth ten thousand of us" (2 Sam 18:3). That was a fine tribute to the worth of David. Earlier the women had sung of him, "Saul hath slain his thousands, and David his ten thousands" (1 Sam 18:7). That too was glowing praise indeed. But the Bride seems to go further than they, making her Beloved not only equal, but "chiefest" among ten thousand, and one day the tribute will be greater still when "ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands" of voices will cry, "Worthy is the Lamb" (Rev 5:11).
Such is the greatness of our Beloved, and in detailed beauty the Bride proceeds to give us language with which to exalt Him. She will now speak of His every lovely feature and of the glory of His whole majestic countenance, until, as is often pointed out, her vocabulary fails and she can only exclaim, "Yea, He is altogether lovely."
Fairer than all the earth-born race,
Perfect in comeliness Thou art;
Replenished are Thy lips with grace,
And full of love Thy tender heart.
What joy it is for us, with the Bride, to muse upon the loveliness of Christ, and say, "This is my Beloved, and this is my Friend."
"And when he had taken the book, the four beasts and four and twenty elders fell down before the Lamb, having every one of them harps, and golden vials full of odours, which are the prayers of saints. And they sung a new song, saying, Thou art worthy to take the book, and to open the seals thereof: for thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation." Rev 5:8-9