“He brought me to the banqueting house, and his banner over me was love.”
Song of Solomon 2:4Inspired Solomon uses an extended metaphor to speak about a deeper spiritual truth concerning Christ and the church, the bridegroom and His bride. The same metaphor is used in Ephesians 5:31-32: “For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh. This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church.”
In the words we consider, the bride speaks about the actions of her bridegroom. He had just referred to himself as the rose of Sharon and the lily of the valleys and then praised his bride as a lily among the thorns, lowly yet beautiful (cf. Song 2:1-2). Following that, the bride praises her bridegroom as a most noble apple tree, providing delightful shade and sweet fruit (v. 3). She goes on to describe the banqueting house into which her bridegroom brought her.
“He brought me into the banqueting house!”
Literally, she says, “He brought me into the house of wine.” Wine in those days was a symbol of abundance and joy. A house of wine, then, is not to be understood as a house of drunkenness, where wine is abused, but rather a house where wine is poured out for joyful feasting. It is the place to which the king would take his most important guests and closest friends to enjoy communion with him. The bride knows she is not worthy to be brought into such fellowship. Her words thus express wonderment and awe at the privilege of such fellowship with the king. She wants the daughters of Jerusalem to know about the wonderful love of her bridegroom.
Such is her joy at being brought into such a privileged position, she calls out “stay me with flagons, comfort me with apples: for I am sick of love” (Song 2:5). Support me with flagons—probably, the bride is referring here to sweet and nourishing raison cakes that have the power to revive. The same thought applies to the refreshment she seeks from apples. Why is she so weak? Because she is “sick of love.” She is as it were wounded with love; she is so overwhelmed by the loving advances of the bridegroom that she becomes faint.
The picture itself is glorious. Even more glorious, however, is the reality of Christ bringing the church into His banqueting house. He takes unworthy sinners into His banqueting house, the house of covenant fellowship, in which we enjoy communion with Jesus Christ our King. “And in this mountain shall the Lord of hosts make unto all people a feast of fat things, a feast of wines on the lees, of fat things full of marrow, of wines on the lees well refined” (Is. 25:6). Already in this life Christ causes us to enjoy the beginning of covenant fellowship with Himself.
The banqueting house can be taken as a picture of the covenant of grace established with miserable, undeserving sinners. Jesus Christ is the foundation of this covenant as He offered Himself the perfect sacrifice for His bride, the church. In covenant with God, we have abundant supply of all spiritual blessings and promises.
In the banqueting house, Christ speaks to us through His love letter, the Bible. We learn of His everlasting love towards us, from which love we will never be separated. In the banqueting house, He sets Himself before us as a feast so that by faith we partake of His flesh and blood. In the house of God, the church, a glorious feast is held forth for all the members of the bride.
Think of all the blessings of salvation given to the church and what joy we have in them. The inspired writer of Romans expresses this joy of the bride as he considers the wonderful benefits we have in Christ: “Moreover whom he did predestinate, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified. What shall we then say to these things? If God be for us, who can be against us? He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?” (Rom. 8:30-32). He goes on to ask in wonderment, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?” We have truly received abundant blessings in Christ Jesus. How is it, though, that the bride came to enjoy such glorious benefits with the bridegroom? Did she make herself beautiful so that finally the bridegroom was attracted to her? Did she labor to merit an invitation from the bridegroom? Did she bring herself into the banqueting house?
Not at all. “He brought me…!” It was not her own work that brought her to enjoy the sumptuous banqueting in the king’s house.
So it is with the church in fellowship with Jesus Christ. The church does not make herself beautiful for Jesus Christ. We do not labor to merit fellowship and communion with Christ. We did not bring ourselves into covenant fellowship with God. Christ brought us to His banqueting house!
The church does not bring herself into covenant with God by meeting prerequisites. We cannot say that faith and repentance are prerequisites for entering into the covenant. That’s because faith and repentance are the fruits of Christ’s work in us. They are blessings that come to those who are in the covenant of grace, not prerequisites that must be met before entering into covenant. The bride of Christ confesses, “He brought me into the banqueting house.”
Of course, this fellowship with Christ is more than just outward membership in the church institute. There are all kinds of people who connect themselves with the church institute. But membership in the church institute is not the same thing as membership in the covenant of grace. “Not as though the word of God hath taken none effect. For they are not all Israel, which are of Israel” (Rom. 9:6). Simply being a member of Israel as a nation did not make anyone part of the true Israel. There have always been tares mixed with the wheat, goats with the sheep, and fools with the wise in the church institute. Fellowship with Christ means that we are members of the mystical body of Christ.
Bringing someone into the banqueting house is a sovereign act of God’s grace. He chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world. In time, He paid the ransom for us, pouring out His precious blood on the cross. From heaven, He sends His Spirit to bring us out of the dungeon of darkness into the marvelous freedom of light, into a life of fellowship with Himself. “Through the tender mercy of our God; whereby the dayspring from on high hath visited us, to give light to them that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace” (Luke 1:78-79).
Once Jesus brings us into that covenant fellowship, He continues to bless us with all spiritual blessings. He opens our understanding so that we behold wondrous things in His love letter to us. As we hear that love letter expounded to us, we believe His promises and rejoice in them. That can only be because Jesus Christ, by the gracious operation of the Holy Spirit, leads us into the banqueting house. What a wonder of grace! How did Christ bring us into His banqueting house? By means of His banner.
“His banner over me was love!”
The bridegroom did not bring the bride into his banqueting house against her will. He did not drag her there kicking and screaming. She came willingly because the bridegroom drew her. She came because his love for her was evident.
That was the function of the bridegroom’s banner. In biblical times, a banner was used for armies to show which man belonged in which camp (cf. Num. 1:52). The bridegroom’s banner, as it were, summoned the bride to come. The banner made it clear to her that she belonged to him; she was the apple of his eye; she belonged with him in the banqueting house. Thus, the banner of love was a means to draw the bride to himself.
So it is with the church. Jesus Christ uses His banner of love to draw us to Himself. His banner announces His love toward us. He doesn’t gather the church to Himself by coercion and intimidation. Rather, He sweetly draws us to Himself by His love as the Spirit works in our hearts to convince us of that love.
In Scripture times, the banner was hoisted up on a pole so that people could see it for miles around. Jesus Christ was lifted on the cross, thus displaying His infinite love for us. “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). Knowing Jesus’ love, we gather under His banner. He says to poor sinners, “Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28). He shows us that we belong under His banner because He loves us and bought us with His precious blood.
He brings us to His banqueting house. His banner over the church is love. By God’s grace, the church rejoices in this truth and with awe and wonder declares that message far and wide.