Isaiah 11:1; Song of Solomon 2:1
December 10, 2017 (KSYC) Download this article (PDF)
This hymn was originally published in Germany in the 1590s by an unknown Roman Catholic hymnwriter. The focus of the hymn was Mary, whom the hymnwriter praises as the “rose of Sharon” in Song of Solomon 2:1, “I am a rose of Sharon, a lily of the valleys.” This is a wrong interpretation of this verse. The Song of Solomon is a song between a husband and wife. Since the Bible is centered on the Person and Work of Christ, this Song is also correctly interpreted as the beautiful relationship between Christ and his Church. The Old Testament often refers to God as a Husband to his people (Jer 31:32), while the New Testament often refers to Christ as the Bridegroom and the Church as his Bride (Eph 5:25; Rev 19:7).
In this verse, the husband is the one speaking. The connection between this verse and Christ is also seen in Matthew 6:28–29, “Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.” Later in Matthew 12:42, Jesus said, “Something greater than Solomon is here,” referring to himself. Therefore, the “rose of Sharon” and the “lily of the valleys” in Song of Solomon 2:1 cannot refer to Mary. So by the late 1600s, Protestants had adopted the hymn by changing its focus from Mary to Jesus.
Most of today’s versions consist of three verses. The first stanza says,
Lo, how a Rose e’er blooming
From tender stem hath sprung!
Of Jesse’s lineage coming,
As men of old have sung.
It came, a flower bright,
Amid the cold of winter,
When half-gone was the night.
This stanza refers to the prophecy in Isaiah 11:1 of the coming Messiah, “There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit.” Though not in the verse, the hymnwriter implies that a rose sprouted from the stem of the tree of Jesse. Jesse represents Israel as he is the father of King David. But because of their rebellion against God, God punished Israel by sending the Babylonians to conquer Israel, destroy the temple in Jerusalem, and sending the people into exile. That’s why Jesse’s tree has become just a mere stump.1
The second stanza then reveals who this Rose was:
Isaiah ’twas foretold it,
The Rose I have in mind:
With Mary we behold it,
The virgin mother kind.
To show God’s love aright,
She bore to men a Savior
When half-gone was the night.
The Rose was born of Mary, the mother of Jesus, who was born to “save his people from their sins” (Matt 1:21). Mary was a “virgin,” a woman who had no sexual relationship with her husband Joseph until after she gave birth to Jesus. The Holy Spirit did what was “impossible” to man: creating a human being without the union of a man and a woman, “For nothing will be impossible with God” (Luke 1:37).
In the third stanza, the hymnwriter affirms that Jesus was true man and true God,
This Flower, whose fragrance tender
With sweetness fills the air,
Dispels with glorious splendor
The darkness everywhere.
True man, yet very God,
From sin and death He saves us,
And lightens every load.
He is true Man because he was born of a true human mother. We read in John 1:1, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Who was this Word? Verse 14 of John 1 answers, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” And in verse 17, John says, “grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.”
So the apostle Paul says in Philippians 2:6-7 that this Christ came down from heaven, assuming human form, “though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.” We also read in Hebrews 4:15, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” He was true man in every respect, suffered temptations like all human beings, yet was sinless. So Hebrews 2:14 says, “Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things.”
He is also true God because he was conceived by God the Holy Spirit. Therefore, all throughout the Bible, he is referred to as God, and not just a good teacher or a prophet. We already read in John 1:1 that he is called the Word, and this Word was God himself. In Isaiah 9:6, we read of the prophecy of a child being born, whose names will be “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” In John 20:28, the apostle Thomas called him, “My Lord and my God!” In Titus 2:13, we Christians are “waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ.” And in Revelation 1:8, Jesus told John, “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.” Clearly, Jesus is true God.
In the third stanza, this Rose has “fragrance tender.” The sacrifice of Jesus is described by the apostle Paul in Ephesians 5:2 as “a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” This is the reason why the Jesus the Son of God had to come down from heaven to assume human form. He willingly sacrificed his body and blood on the cross to “save his people from their sins” (Matt 1:21). That’s why Hebrews 2:14 says, “Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil.”
Why did he have to be a true human being and die on the cross for sins? Because it is man who sinned, and therefore, a man has to pay for human sins. Why a bloody death on the cross? Because the penalty for sin is death, as God warned Adam before he disobeyed in the Garden of Eden (Gen 2:14-15). But immediately after Adam sinned, God made atonement for his sin by sacrificing an animal and taking its skin to cover Adam and Eve’s nakedness, a metaphor for man’s sinfulness (Gen 3:21). From that day on, bloody animal sacrifices were repeatedly offered by God’s people to atone for their sins.
But these were only types and shadows of Jesus’ atoning sacrifice on the cross. His sacrifice was a once-for-all event, never to be repeated, because it atoned for all the sins of all his people (Heb 10:14). His sacrifice is a fulfillment of all the animal sacrifices in the Old Testament, just as Noah’s burnt sacrifice after the flood was “the aroma of a sacrifice pleasing to God” (Gen 8:21). How can one man’s atoning sacrifice cover these multitudes of sins of multitudes of people? Because Jesus Christ is also infinite God, so his sacrifice has infinite and eternal value.
In Luke 2:9, on the dark night when Jesus was born, “the glory of the Lord shone around” the shepherds in the field. And the heavenly angels sang in verse 14, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” That is why the hymnwriter wrote, “[The Rose] dispels with glorious splendor the darkness everywhere.” Jesus came as the Light of the world (John 8:12), bringing the light of righteousness into a dark world of sin and death (Eph 5:8).
So the hymnwriter invites all people to come to Christ with repentant and believing hearts, because he “lightens every load.” In Matthew 11:28-29, Christ invites everyone,
“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”