“The Footsteps of the Flock”
The King in the Song is also a Shepherd. Of course two of Solomon’s greatest predecessors were shepherds, too. Moses had tended the flock in Midian after his departure from Egypt, and King David had been a shepherd boy in the fields of Bethlehem, bravely defending the flock from predators, and later weaving his experiences into song, as in the delightful little Shepherd Psalm (Psa 23). It is not surprising, therefore, that from earliest times Jehovah should often be viewed as the Shepherd of Israel, leading Israel as a flock (Psalm 80). It was Jacob who spoke of “The God that shepherded me all my life long” (Gen 48:15 JND).
The Beloved of the Song of Solomon has all the care and characteristics of a Shepherd. It was the Messiah of Israel who said, “I am the Good Shepherd” (John 10:11,14), and it is not without cause that one could call Him, “That Great Shepherd of the sheep” (Heb13:20), and that another should call Him “The Chief Shepherd” (1 Pet 5:4). To Him, the true Shepherd, the porter opened. He was introduced to the nation by John Baptist and He then called His own sheep out of the fold of Judaism on His way to Golgotha to lay down His life for the sheep. His sheep knew His voice and followed Him. Now, in glory, He is engaged in a tender Shepherd care for His people.
The needs of the flock are many and varied, but there is a special, continual need for food and rest, so that the sheep may lie down, satisfied, in green pastures. How necessary it was, in a parched land like Israel, to find green pastures, and how desirable, too, to find a suitable place to shelter and rest when the burning sun was high at noon. For this reason the Bride now pleads, “Tell me, O thou who my soul loveth, where thou feedest.” Where may she find her Shepherd-lover and His flock? She has cried, “Kiss me,” “Draw me,” and now it is “Tell me.” Of course there are flocks other than His and there are others who presume to be shepherds. But in these she is not interested; she desires to be where her Beloved is. Where does He feed His flock? Where, in the heat of the noonday, does He make His flock to rest? She will not be content with less than this, to be with Him.
Many a young believer, in deep exercise of soul, has asked the same questions. In the bewildering confusion and divisions of sectarianism many have pleaded, “Where?” “Tell me!” Note that the question is born out of love for Him. It is “Thou whom my soul loveth.” It is the heart’s desire of one who, in bridal affection, truly longs to be where her Beloved is, and such sincerity receives an immediate reply. Those believers who, in love to Him, seek a path pleasing to Him, will soon find guidance.
The directions are clear enough, “Go thy way forth.” Is there an implication here that there must be, on the part of the enquiring believer, a willingness to go forth, to follow the path which will be indicated? Some there are, sadly, who, when shown the scriptural pathway, find it either difficult, or lonely, or too narrow, and regrettably they do not follow. There must be a willingness, when the directions are clear, to go forth. Such was the plea of the writer to the Hebrews, “Let us go forth” (Heb 13:13). It was a big thing for a young believer, raised in the fold of Jewry with all its fleshly appeal and ascetic beauty, and, for many, strong family ties, to “go forth” outside that favored camp. However, what made it easier, and desirable, was this, that it was “unto Him.” He was there, outside, and it would be good to be with Him. After all, the camp had cast Him out, and, consequently, for those who love Him, the outside place must be shared with Him.
Outside the Camp unto Thy dear Name,
Draw me, O Lamb of God,
Far from the world with its sin and its shame,
Hallowed is every sod.
Outside the Camp, ‘tis a lonely place,
Outside the city wall;
Here on Thy breast let my soul ever rest
Outside the Camp with Thee.
She who is now described as “fairest among women” is exhorted to follow the footsteps of the flock, and is assured that these will lead to Him Whom she seeks. “Fairest among women!” So she is in His eyes. However others may view her, or whatever she may think of herself, to Him she is the fairest. She knows that in herself she may be black, sun-burnt by past difficult years, and not like the fair-skinned, pale-complexioned women of the court. It is what she means to Him that matters, and to her Beloved she is fairest among women. Whatever the world may think of the saints of God, to Him His Church is the fairest and He “cherisheth it” (Eph 5:29).
So the exercised soul will go forth. “Why?” she asks, “Why should I be as one that turneth aside?” The flocks of other companions are not for her. She desires Him. She is like Mary of Magdala at that Garden Tomb who was not interested in either angels or apostles, nor in the supposed gardener, unless they could tell her where her Lord was. Many other flocks will make their appeal to the believer searching for fellowship. Many of these are indeed being shepherded by godly men. Many are espoused by sincere believers. In many of them there will be goodly companies, much activity, and much to attract. What is the answer? Find those who are nearest to the Shepherd. Get near to Him by staying near to those who are nearest to Him. Follow the footsteps of the flock, and, though the way may at times be difficult and lonely, it will lead to Him, in the midst.