A Special Calling
“Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him. But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit” (1 Corinthians 2:9,10).
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There is no more remarkable privilege than for us to be invited to be part of the Bride of Christ. Jesus gave John, the disciple who was endeared to him in a special way, a glimpse of the bride in glory while John suffered on the isle of Patmos. “There came unto me one of the seven angels … saying, Come hither, I will shew thee the bride, the Lamb’s wife. And he carried me away in the spirit to a great and high mountain, and shewed me that great city, the holy Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God, Having the glory of God: and her light was like unto a stone most precious, even like a jasper stone, clear as crystal” (Revelation 21:9-11).
In Revelation 19, the Bride class is described using different symbols. “I heard as it were the voice of a great multitude, and as the voice of many waters, and as the voice of mighty thunderings, saying, Alleluia … Let us be glad and rejoice … for the marriage of the Lamb is come, and his wife hath made herself ready … she [was] arrayed in fine linen, clean and white: for the fine linen is the righteousness of saints” (Revelation 19:6-8).
The Beautiful Bride
When we look about us, we may see what Paul saw among his spiritual brothers and sisters. “Not many wise after the flesh, not many mighty … not many noble, are called. … But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise” (1 Corinthians 1:26,27). However, to the heavenly bridegroom, the Church is lovely. The loveliness that he sees is the Christian character of the saints. We sometimes call this “inner beauty.” That is the loveliness that Jesus, who reads the heart, sees and loves.
When we observe the sweet character of any saint, we see the kind of beauty that Jesus sees. “Behold your chaste conversation … whose adorning … let it be the hidden man of the heart … the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price” (1 Peter 3:2-4). When we see brethren with these characteristics, does it appeal to us, the way it appeals to him? If it does, then we should seek to emulate this disposition also.
The beauty of character is depicted many times in the Old Testament pictures that refer to the Bride class. We begin by considering Rebekah, called to be the bride of Isaac (Jesus), called through the influence of Eliezer (the holy Spirit).1 There is another person relative to the narrative that we sometimes pass by, Rebekah’s nurse (Genesis 24:59), whom we later learn was named Deborah (Genesis 35:8). Perhaps this nurturing attendant, apparently older than the young Rebekah, represents the influence of the Ancient Worthies as a “cloud of witnesses” to the followers of Jesus (Hebrews 12:1).
(1) The name of the servant is not specified in the narrative of Genesis 24. But it is usually assumed to be Eliezer, for he was the chief steward mentioned in Rebekah, kindly serving Eliezer Genesis 15:2.
Eliezer had prayed to God for direction in selecting a good bride for Isaac. Without divine insight, how could he know to ask the right person? So Eliezer prayed, “Let it come to pass, that the damsel to whom I shall say, Let down thy pitcher, I pray thee, that I may drink; and she shall say, Drink, and I will give thy camels drink also: let the same be she that thou hast appointed for thy servant Isaac; and thereby shall I know that thou hast shewed kindness unto my master” (Genesis 24:14). That is the kind of person God that seeks for a bride for His son, Jesus. They are disposed to kindness, considerateness, service, and zeal, prompting them to do more than just what is required of them.
Eliezer was granted his request. “Before he had done speaking … behold, Rebekah came out … with her pitcher upon her shoulder. And the damsel was very fair to look upon” (Genesis 24:15,16). She was so kind to the stranger, so helpful, and so eager. She eased the thirst of Eliezer, and then said, “I will draw water for thy camels also, until they have done drinking. And she hasted, and emptied her pitcher into the trough, and ran again” — not trudged drearily, but ran eagerly the many times necessary for all the camels (Genesis 24:19,20).
Is that our spirit? “The Little Flock will serve the Lord with such delight that they will scarcely know how to cease their efforts” (R5413).
Eliezer presented Rebekah with a golden adornment of 1/2 shekel weight, the same weight later used as a symbol of redemption (Exodus 30:12,13), and two golden bracelets of 10 shekels for her hands, indicating that when called by God, members of the Church class are to engage in divine service.
Rebekah brought Abraham’s servant to the home of her family, which offered lodging for him and provender for the animals. Then followed more discussions, and more gifts from the visitor (Genesis 24:53). The next morning, Rebekah’s family wanted her to delay her departure. But she was ready to leave. She replied, “I will go” (Genesis 24:58). She and her entourage departed, and at the end of the journey she saw Isaac “in the field at eventide,” as the church sees our Lord in the harvest field in the evening of the Gospel Age. When Rebekah met Isaac, there was a veil intervening, as the veil of flesh intervenes between us and Jesus. But subsequently they were united face to face, as we will be. Then “Isaac was comforted” after the passing of his mother, Sarah, representing that the marriage of Christ and his bride follows the passing or conclusion of the heavenly calling of the Abrahamic Covenant (Genesis 24:63-67).
The next part of God’s plan will be the kingdom on Earth, represented by the “south,” as distinguished from the “north.” (A symbol of the heavenly kingdom — see Zechariah 14:4, Ezekiel 47:1). Perhaps this is why Isaac at the time of their meeting “dwelt in the south country,” and perhaps this is why the “well Lahairoi” is mentioned, that we last encountered when God promised that Ishmael, natural Israel, would be favored by God (Genesis 24:62, 16:14).
Sarah, Rebekah, and Rachel
We noted in the narrative about Rebekah that she was “very fair to look upon” (Genesis 24:16). This characterized Sarah also, so much so that Abraham was fearful for having such a lovely companion when he and Sarah went down to Egypt (Genesis 12:13,14). Rachel, the preferred wife of Jacob, was also well graced. “Leah was tender eyed; but
Rachel was beautiful and well favoured” (Genesis 29:17).
All three women are connected to the heavenly calling. Sarah represented the spiritual part of the Abrahamic Covenant, bearing Isaac, a picture of Christ and the Church. Rachel pictured the same, her son Joseph representing Christ and the Church, and her younger son Benjamin, born as Rachel expired, representing the Great Company. Thus, the Rachel picture gives us some added detail respecting the secondary spiritual class, which the Sarah and Rebekah pictures did not include.
Leah was less well favoured. However, if “tender eyed” intends something complimentary, then though less attractive than her younger sister, she also presented herself pleasantly. Leah bore six sons, reminding us of Keturah who also had six sons. Since Keturah represents the earthly part of the Abrahamic Covenant, compared to Sarah the heavenly part, perhaps Leah represents the earthly part of the promises also.2 They are wonderful promises. Mankind will have a wonderful future when the millennial work is completed. But the comparison stands — the beautiful ones are the heavenly ones. Let us reflect the beauty of character that our master seeks in us. He is watching. Is he attracted to us?
(2) If the six sons of Leah represent the world, as did the six sons of Keturah, this raises the question, who are represented by the sons of Zilpah, her handmaid, and Bilhah, the handmaid of Rachel? They each bore two sons. Our suggestion is that Zilpah’s sons Gad and Asher suggest the large number of restored mankind, and their happiness when restored, for these names mean a troop, and happy, respectively (Genesis 30:11,13, margin). The sons of Bilhah, the handmaid of Rachel, represent those who were connected in some way to the spiritual calling, but failed to achieve its rewards. Her sons were Dan and Naphtali. Dan is the name missing among the tribes of spiritual Israel in Revelation chapter seven, representing those who had the opportunity, but failed to overcome. Naphtali, meaning wrestling (Genesis 30:8, margin), represents natural Israel who had the potential of the heavenly calling but failed to take advantage of it. Like Jacob who wrestled with the angel at the brook Jabbok, Israel has wrestled for peace, and will attain it at daybreak (Genesis 32:24-26).
There is no lovelier picture of the beauty of the saints than that in Queen Esther. When Vashti (natural Israel) was set aside, after declining to show her beauty (as Israel declined to show the beauty of character when called upon at the first advent), then a search went out through the entire kingdom for the loveliest and most graceful of all the young maidens. Esther was first nurtured by Hegai (the holy Spirit), and she was so pleasant of demeanor that “the maiden pleased him, and she obtained kindness of him … and he preferred her … unto the best place of the house of the women” (Esther 2:9).
Esther was then prepared for “six months with oil of myrrh, and six months with sweet odours,” or perfumes (Esther 2:12). The same is true with us who have received the heavenly calling. Before being introduced to the presence of our great king and husband-to-be, we need preparation. During this nighttime of sin (six months) we require the oil of myrrh (bitter experience with its tendering influences), and fragrant perfumes (the graces of the spirit that should be aromatic to others).
This regimen was applied altogether for a full year, a long time for a mere introduction to the king. Our regimen is applied for the length of our consecrated walk. It seems like a long time. However, by comparison with the ages of eternity, it can be considered a passing moment.
When Esther’s time came for review before the king, he was smitten. “She required nothing but what Hegai … appointed. And Esther obtained favour in the sight of all them that looked upon her. … And the king loved Esther above all the women, and she obtained grace and favour in his sight more than all … so that he set the royal crown upon her head” (Esther 2:15-17). What an endearing picture. However homely we may appear before others, our king is looking for the loveliness of character. We can become lovely, if we wish it. Are we lovely? Is he attracted?
A Bride for Solomon
One of the loveliest images of the bride in scripture is contained in the 45th Psalm. It refers to the wedding of a king, King Solomon evidently, and the bride-to-be was probably the daughter of the Pharaoh of Egypt,3 for the description of the occasion indicates a state wedding of high formality. Solomon here pictures King Jesus, and the bride pictures the Church (Psalm 45:6, Hebrews 1:8). Because the bride was also the daughter of a king (pharaoh), she is addressed that way.
“The king’s daughter is all glorious within: her clothing is of wrought gold” (verse 13). That is the kind of beauty we are concerned with, glorious within. The clothing of wrought gold indicates the value of the ornamentation of divine graces to make us presentable to our king. In order to accept this invitation, we have to “forget also thine own people, and thy father’s house; So shall the king greatly desire thy beauty” (verses 10,11).
In this case it is Jesus who is represented as fragrant and aromatic. “All thy garments smell of myrrh, and aloes, and cassia, out of the ivory palaces” (verse 8). Myrrh and aloes were the spices used to anoint Jesus for his burial (John 19:39), representing the remarkably bitter experiences of Jesus, and the healing that comes from them. Cassia is a symbol of power, something that Jesus now has in glory. White linen pictures the righteousness of saints beyond the veil (Revelation 19:8). Here, white ivory is used to heighten the concept as applied to Jesus in the heavenly realm.
It is hard to surpass the imagery of a groom waiting for his lovely bride in a wedding ceremony. Our groom awaits us. As we approach, let us become as captivating as we may — spiritually. Jesus is looking for loveliness. Let us see to it that our efforts will bring a smile to his face, and a gleam to his eye.
The Song of Solomon is also about the love Christ has for his bride to be, but in this case the Church is depicted as a young lady of modest background. Humble she may be, but she is treasured by her beloved. Song of Solomon 6:13 refers to her as the “Shulamite,” an idealized name which is feminine for “peace,” as Solomon is the masculine word for “peace.”
This lovely maiden describes herself as “black, but comely … as the tents of Kedar,” a metaphor drawn from the black hides of goats still used today by Bedouins (Song of Solomon 1:5). Black is symbolic of distress, whether famine (Lamentations 5:10) or otherwise, and here it represents the afflictions that are necessary experiences to develop our characters.
If we are unsure how to approach our heavenly paramour, Song of Solomon 1:8 advises us, “If thou know not, O thou fairest among women, go thy way forth by the footsteps of the flock, and feed thy kids beside the shepherds’ tents.” In other words, we find Jesus by following the flock.
In chapter two, verses 8 and forward, Jesus is depicted as coming to claim his bride after the winter time distresses of the Gospel Age, during the springtime of new life in the harvest. “My beloved spake, and said unto me, Rise up, my love, my fair one, and come away” (Song of Solomon 2:10).
Chapter three tells us about the spirit of the Shulamite, eager for her husband, even rising before his return to seek him. Chapter four describes the bride as she is here, during the Gospel Age — as contrasted with chapter seven, which describes the bride from head to toe, complete as she will be in glory. Chapter five gives the other side of the issue, how some invited to be part of the bride class are not well motivated, and thus become part of the Great Company class. This proceeds through chapter six, the Great Company acknowledging that she has missed something wonderful. Chapter eight summarizes the hopes of the Church, defines her as well developed (in contrast to the little sister, the Great Company class), expresses hope for those who have been less faithful, and closes with the hope of the saints. “Make haste, my beloved, and be thou like to a roe or to a young hart upon the mountains of spices” — the return of Christ to take his bride.
To see what Jesus sees in us presently, we look at the description in chapter four. “Behold, thou are fair, my love; behold, thou art fair; thou hast dove’s eyes within thy locks: thy hair is as a flock of goats that appear from mount Gilead” (verse 1). The first specific noted is peace, “doves’ eyes.” When one person encounters another, we naturally look to the eyes of the person. Do we see peace? That is what Jesus wants to see. If instead there is disquiet, or anger, then we are in this respect not lovely. Hair is a symbol of devotion, as Samson’s uncut hair represented fidelity to his Nazarite vows. Here the bride has abundant, luxuriant hair. If we are devoted, Jesus will see us this way.
Her teeth are full, clean, white, and capable of receiving healthy spiritual food. Are we practiced this way? Do we know, “by reason of use” (Hebrews 5:14), the supports for our faith and beliefs? Or do we hold a series of positions that we have simply assimilated? Her lips are like a scarlet thread with comely speech, speaking appreciatively of her redemption. Her temples are rosy like a pomegranate, as she meditates on our standing bought for us by Christ (verses 2,3, Exodus 28:33,34).
Her neck, rising tall and stately, represents the support of faith, the shields of faith all in place (verse 4), and she is developed in the lovely features of Christian growth (verse 5). If this is the case with us, then Jesus speaks to us in symbol, “thou hast ravished my heart, my sister, my spouse … how fair is thy love!” (Verses 9,10). That is how we wish to present ourselves before our beloved.
“My beloved … stands behind our wall, he looks forth at the windows, shewing himself through the lattice. (Song of Solomon 2:9)