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Black Beauty (1:5-6)

WARNING: The following material is intended for mature audiences. While this is a Bible study, the Song of Songs is written with references to sexual themes, intimate textual innuendos, and suggestive figurative language that may not be suitable for some audiences. Viewer discretion is advised. It is recommended that you approach this book from God with pure motives and pray that His will in preserving these song lyrics can be a blessing to you. It is advisable that if you have been enjoying this podcast with young ears present that you refrain from doing so at this time. Wait until you are in a private setting to continue. Thank you for taking this word of caution into consideration as we begin today’s episode.

The girl in our Song expresses "I am black but lovely, O daughters of Jerusalem, Like the tents of Kedar, Like the curtains of Solomon. Do not stare at me because I am swarthy, For the sun has burned me. My mother's sons were angry with me; They made me caretaker of the vineyards, [But] I have not taken care of my own vineyard.

In verse 5, the girl now shares some insecurity that she has about herself. Unlike the city girls, this girl has a dark complexion due to her work in the vineyard. Her brothers seemed to have forced her to work in the physical garden while she has not kept up her appearance (body), which she calls her own vineyard. She recognizes that she may not be as fair as the other maidens, but she is still beautiful. It almost appears as if she is responding to the other maidens' accusations, “Yes I am black, but I am also beautiful!” Her family and friends may have lowered her self-esteem, and she expresses now, the uncomfortable stares of the other maidens, whether real or imagined. Since these are song lyrics, we must take them as feelings expressed in poetry that are simply insinuation. Her skin is not dark due to her ethnic background but is suntanned from working with the elements in the field. Compared to the high elite of society she is not considered beautiful in the eyes of others, except for her lover. In the beautification process of the daughters of Jerusalem we find for example in Esther 2:12, “Now when the turn of each young lady came to go into King Ahasuerus, after the end of her twelve months under the regulations for the women—for the days of their beautification were completed as follows: six months with oil of myrrh and six months with spices and the cosmetics for women.” She is black in comparison to the fair skin color of her peers, due to being burnt by the sun and by the anger of her stepbrothers. It is safe to say, based on the countless numbers of studies that have been completed, that men and women alike have been made to feel uncomfortable within their own skin based on the elite standards that have been supplied by the mainstream media and Hollywood's ideal image. People struggle with their body shape, weight, their physical features, and even their skin tone or quality. Ask any teenage girl if there is a standard to which she must achieve and she will quickly take you to the front page of a magazine that displays for you a fit model with dazzling hair and makeup, that on the surface appears very happy with herself. What many people fail to research is that most, if not all of these models, starve themselves or at least have eating disorders, and without all of the make-up and the glamorous lights and cameras, look like regular people that we mingle with every day in society. Before their photo ever makes it to the cover of the magazine, the image will go through a series of touch-ups with programs that enhance the lighting, physical traits, and yes, even the skin tone that our culture finds enticing, and it leaves the beholder with a false sense of what is real. Then when a young girl measures herself by that expectation, she is left to feel undesirable or subpar to other women. Ladies are not alone in this battle. Men are also told that if you are not at least 6 feet tall, cannot count your abs and be physically cut from head to toe, while also maintaining a great hairline, that you have somehow missed out on the qualities that make for a real man. Every healthy men's magazine will tell you that you have to be able to perform in the bedroom, have an entourage of women in your life and that you need to be preparing for a bodybuilding competition or you just cannot make the cut among the finest of men. This is an issue that is being ignored by most people. Instead of exposing the phonies and realizing that these are false bars that have been set up by the world for us to reach, we continue to look with disdain at our reflective image in the mirror and we decry that we are less than what we should be before others. Even more important, we do not feel worthy in some cases to be loved by our own lover. Interestingly, we will see the young beloved girl constantly concerned with the way others look at her and feel about her. Whether or not the daughters of Jerusalem were real people in the lyrics, or if this young girl is comparing herself to the higher class, we will not know. It is safe to say that she indeed has some lack of self-esteem regarding the way she was raised as compared to other girls. She even says to these girls that her skin is like the tents of Kedar which would have been the rough goatskin and dark in color like the tapestries in Solomon’s palace (Swarthy is another word for deeply tanned). While in our culture, tanned skin is more desirable, in her day, it was a sign of a lack of consideration for one's beauty and perhaps a reflection of the life you would be forced to live, serving outdoors in the heat of the day. It is amazing to listen to people talk about themselves when they live in cultures where the majority of the people have darker pigmentation to their skin tone. The larger populace of the people in these cultures desires to have fair skin. Yet, when you look at cultures that are primarily made up of fair-skinned people, they are spending $60-$100 a month for a membership to the nearest tanning bed in an effort to get dark skin. This is because having a tan is so desirable among those that traditionally are light in color. Why is this such an issue? Studies will show that most people desire to be like those who are different than themselves. Instead of accepting who the good Lord made them be, and appreciating their own features, they compare themselves to what is known as the status quo and they pursue that coveted image. I am not saying that we cannot get some sun in the summer or visit a tanning salon. I am also not saying that doing things to protect the skin to keep it fair would be wrong. The point is that this tanned girl admired the elite fair-skinned women of her day. The women spent their time in beautification treatments away from the rays of the sun. Instead of seeing herself as unique in comparison, she instead thought less of herself, because she was not exactly like them. By modern standards, if we have a nice deep tan from the sun, we are considered fortunate to have found time to layout or hit the beach and catch some rays. The major factor here is not whether we are dark due to ethnicity, tanned, or fair-skinned. We need to come to grips with the fact that, beauty is in the eye of the beholder and even if our circumstances have made us something different from the standards of the "so-called" best of the best, we need to realize that we are still beautiful and desirable as we are. The self-esteem issue is the greatest matter that must be addressed with true standards, not the fake measurements being thrown at us by the world around us.

I cannot help but address the current issues surrounding race matters. We do not want to spend a lot of time here, because it is off-topic, but I also believe it is applicable and important. Allow me to break this down in three short points. The brevity here is not to express a lack of importance but to simply share facts. First, there is no such thing as races of people. We are the human race as God made all people dwell on the face of the earth. In Acts 17:26-27, the Bible says, “He made from one [man] every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined [their] appointed times and the boundaries of their habitation, that they would seek God if perhaps they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us” We need to seek God in this country and find Him. That is the only answer to this crisis. Next, it is more appropriate to refer to skin color as shades of brown and not black and white or any other color that has been wrongfully assigned to various people living in the world today. It is scientifically proven that skin shade is determined by the level of melanin in your genes. We are not different races, we are the human race and we all come in shades of brown. The only way to get rid of race wars in this country is to stop allowing false ideas to be upheld. We are all Adam’s race. We are all one blood. We come from the same ancestors according to God’s word. Finally, if we cannot find a way to love our brother who we can see, the Bible says we cannot love God who is unseen. One day there will be a lot of people in for a big surprise when they face the judgment of God and their hearts are filled with hatred. They will go to the devil’s hell. We can hate sin, but we must love and lead the sinner to a loving God by telling them about Jesus. This series is called Love Awakening. Perhaps we need to awaken love for every soul of man. I titled this message Black Beauty because in the song the girl sees her brown tanned skin as black in comparison to other women. There is no person that is truly black. That is a portrayal that has been made up and spread throughout the world. There is no white person. They would be pronounced dead if not deathly ill in such a condition. We are all one people and skin tone is based on the genetics we received at birth. Stop the madness that we see in our country today. The truth is “Brown Lives Matter”. That would capture the heart of every human and help us to see that we have one Creator that made us all for His glory. Only then can we pursue peace and unity all over this planet. I find it interesting that God would introduce Jesus in a part of the world where people tend to take on a middle brown skin tone. Perhaps there was some wisdom in doing this. The one who died for the sins of the world died for Adam’s race. We are all sinners and in need of His precious blood to wash us clean from our sins. It is time that the world cleanses their hands and purifies their hearts of this wickedness. Getting back into the text of the Song, we see how important it is that we understand our value no matter our shade of brown. None of us like to be stared at for any length of time and this girl is concerned that someone may be evaluating the reasons behind her dark skin and lack of attention to her beauty. Sometimes we find that those of our own sex can be more humiliating and judgmental about our looks while our counterpart may be accepting of what we have to offer. It may be good to remember that true beauty comes from within the heart and the physical actions of each person in this life, instead of it being found in outward attractiveness alone. While she is unique in her looks, she feels that it is more desirable to be fair as the other women, while she is very beautiful already in the eyes of her lover. In some cases, the one who has uniqueness may be the one to envy, instead of the one who follows the majority and patterns of the world's most popular trends. The vineyard that she was forced to care for (the work of the field) has caused her to neglect the vineyard of her own (the female allurement and beauty). In essence, she has worked and made the natural vineyard to flourish while allowing her vineyard to grow wild and unattended. She has then been doubly burned, once by the anger of her mother’s sons (stepbrothers), and once by the hot sun in the field. For you, it may not be stepbrothers or the work that you did that are the cause of your personal self-image issues that you carry into your marriage, but rather some unfortunate event (a form of abuse that you endured, or the effects of a former addiction or self-neglect). The reality is that these can change your perception of yourself if you allow them to define you. Some have speculated that these brothers were trying to protect her from the flirty ways that lead to an improper marriage. If she stayed busy in the field and did not have any time to prepare for a proper appearance to be looked upon by other men, these stepbrothers assumed that she would keep herself for a proper marriage later. Regardless, she despised them, because now she feels that it has hindered her beauty and her ability to be pleasing to a lover, like the fair ladies in competition with her to win a lover. I believe that it is good to take the vineyard as representing her femininity and then say that she has not cultivated her beauty, as she wished that she could have, in her early years. The intentions of her stepbrothers, whether good or bad, have negatively impacted her life, as she sees it. How do you feel about yourself? Do we feel inadequate with your looks in the world? Why are we always following the modern-day trends and styles? Do we struggle from the same issues that this young girl has to deal with on a daily basis? What kind of self-esteem do you have? We hear the masses shouting their personal woes endlessly. I’m too tall or way too short! I’m too fat or too skinny! My skin is too fair or too dark etc. etc. For some people, it may not be something to do with outward presentation or appearance. Others might be dealing with emotional scars. One might say, I was raped or molested therefore no one will want me! I deal with mental illness, so I am undesirable! I’m physically impaired or I am wounded from an experience in my childhood that I deal with regularly and no one wants to care for me! We could go on and on about how we feel to the point that when someone else truly expresses an interest in us, we won’t believe that we really are treasured by someone else. Quite honestly, what many learn is that most humans are wrestling with their own self-esteem issues daily. Then when they find someone else that is willing to love them in spite of their personal issues, not to mention that this "someone" has a few issues of their own that they need help to overcome, we miss the fact that we can have a mutually fulfilling relationship.

While some would argue that we should come into a relationship that is sound, meaning that we have figured out and fixed all of our oddities, bandaged up and healed our wounds, the truth is, this is simply absurd. To be forward, if you come to a relationship thinking that you or your partner is going to be perfect and without scar or flaw, you are fooling yourself. The goal is to allow the good Lord to bless us in a union called marriage through which we love and heal together. Notice I didn't say that it was your job to fix yourself or the other person in your relationship. The Lord does that through our marriage, but we are not personally responsible, nor should we take it upon ourselves to remedy the ailments of self-esteem. What is often most healing about a healthy marriage is that we learn that we are not alone in our struggles and we help each other get through life until we are at home with the Lord. If we were perfect, we would not need a Savior. If God thought we could do life alone he never would have instituted marriage and created a helper for the man. The male and female entering into marriage bring blessings and blunders to the relationship that otherwise would be missing. Love the differences and discrepancies and learn to value your partner in spite of the difficulties of the past. Believe that you are valuable to your lover and to God, who made you in His image, just how He wanted you to look and act while giving you a specific set of gifts to offer (Gen. 1:26-27). No circumstance in life is beyond His ability to bless. Quite honestly, God knows the person you have been, that you currently are, and who you will become. God's perfecting power can only come through our weaknesses and flaws. He can work with us only when we are willing to acknowledge our past, be content to accept our situation in life while remaining open to what He has in store for us. I am not downplaying the importance of self-esteem and personal self-image, as this is an important part of the development process. How we feel about ourselves may determine our personality. We may be an introvert or an extrovert. Some become intense intellectuals or dreamy romantics. Our genes and our early childhood development can influence all of these things. This young girl describes the influences of her youth on her life, as she points to her mother’s sons and the environment of the vineyards, as the cause of her feelings. At some point, we are able to change some of these outcomes, and we need to accept the rest. Even though life can put us through dire circumstances, God can bless us richly to heal from each setback and enter into a loving relationship with Him first and then with a godly loving spouse. SPIRITUAL APPLICATION: As we reflect on our past, from a spiritual perspective, there is not one soul that can say that they have not sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). The Bible describes this as soiling or defiling our garments (Revelation 3:4). At some point, we are made dirty by our involvement with sin. We reflect on this and do not feel worthy of the love, mercy, and grace extended to us in Christ. If you remember as a kid, going outside in brand new clothes and getting mud or grass stains, and then coming in to find that look of disgust in your mother's eyes, you can certainly relate here. God finds us in the pit of despair covered in the muck of sin. He sent His Son to die on the cross to provide the cleansing power through His blood, as a detergent for our sins. He cleans us up and put on us a robe of white and sanctifies us. We are said to be as white as snow (Isaiah 1:18). The issue is when we allow ourselves to entertain sin again, and play outside in our church clothes (if you will allow me to use the imagery). The Bible describes us as a pig going back to the wallowing in the mire. We lay again in the mud and roll around until we are completely covered. I am certain that just as the young girl in our song felt undesirable when she was dark, the fact is, she was loved. While we were still sinners Christ died for us in the biggest demonstration of love ever known. The shepherd lover saw something special in her and came to marry her in spite of what others looked down upon her for in life. He rescued her from the anger of her mother's sons and from the sun in the sky that hung over the vineyards that she cared for each day. He finally allowed her to focus on taking care of herself while he also extended to her his love and care. The Son of God is the bridegroom and we as the church are the bride of Christ. When He finds us, we are under the influence and consequences of the evils committed against us and the sins that we ourselves have committed. He refuses to leave us there. The Son will rescue us from the pains of this life and the flames of hell and He will take us home with Him one day to care for our souls eternally. In the meantime, while we face the burning of the trials of life, the alluring temptations, and mistreatment of this world, we look up over the hills until our King of Kings on His chariot arrives to take us away and love us in spite of it all. QUESTIONS: 1. What personal self-esteem issues do you have that are keeping you from feeling worthy of love?

2. What do you think are the top reasons that people are led to believe that they are not desirable? What can we learn from this text to overcome these issues?

3. How much of an influence do you think modern cultural trends and standards play in our current crisis with self-esteem issues?

4. What valuable lesson can we take from this portion of the text that proves that the pigmentation or enhancements of your skin have nothing to do with your worthiness to be loved and cherished?

5. What did you learn about yourself from this message and how will the lesson help you to overcome your personal feelings about your image?

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