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God’s Stigma and the Dark Secret of The Shulamite

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…I am black, and comely, O daughters of Jerusalem, as the tents of Kedar, as the curtains of Solomon. Don’t see me only as dark, because the sun has looked upon me this way. My mother’s children [brothers in some translations] burned in anger with me; they made me guard the vineyards; but I have not guarded my own.
” Song 1:5-6

 

Stigma

Origin:  1580–90;  < Latin  < Greek stígma  tattoo mark, equivalent to stig-  (stem of stízein  to tattoo) + -ma  noun suffix denoting result of action
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A mark of disgrace or infamy; a stain or reproach, as on one’s reputation.
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Medicine/Medical:
a. a mental or physical mark that is characteristic of a defect or disease: the stigmata of leprosy
b. a place or point on the skin that bleeds during certain mental states
Zoology:
a. a small mark, spot, or pore on an animal or organ.
b. the eyespot of a protozoan.
c. an entrance into the respitory system of insects.
Botany:
a. the part of a pistil that receives the pollen.

Other:
a. stigmata, marks resembling the wounds of the crucified body of Christ, said to be supernaturally impressed on the bodies of certain persons

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Did you know there is a “mark” for the people of God?  Ezekiel 9 and Revelation 7 are a couple places that speak of it.  It is not the “mark of the beast,” or the “mark of Cain,” but a mark of identification with Christ.  It is the reproaches of Christ Himself.  Those who have the mark know that it is deeply painful, deeply personal, and one of the most profound honors imaginable.

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“Zeal [passion/love] for your house has consumed me; and the reproaches of them that reproach you are fallen upon me.” Psalm 69:9
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“I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus.” Gal. 6:17

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In the verse above, the Greek word for ‘marks’ is stigma.  Strong’s dictionary says it is from a primary word στίζω stizō (to “stick”, that is, prick); a mark incised or punched (for recognition of ownership), that is, (figuratively) scar of service: – mark.
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A Stigmatized Bride

The Shulamite woman in the Song of Songs was a marked woman as well.  What little information she does reveal is very intentional.  Consider the following:
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 She is fatherless

In the Song her mother and brothers are mentioned, but not a father, and the brothers appear to be in charge of this one, and seemingly only sister, Song 6:9.  It was customary for brothers to be a surrogate father for an orphaned sister, safeguarding and nurturing her maturity, chastity, and future as a bride in relationship.¹
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 She is seen as a commodity and put to work

Instead of cherishing their sister with a father’s heart, her brothers look at her as someone who can profit them.  They guilt her into working their vineyards, and after years of hard labor she is affected; her skin deeply embedded with the sun’s gaze.  In those days this was a stigma that made a woman feel ‘less than.’
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 She is an object of envy

She has a gift.  It is implied in verse 6, as well as 8:8-12 that she owns her own vineyard.  Another translation of the word is ‘garden.’  On a literal level this was likely an inheritance or gift from her father, and like Joseph’s coat of many colors, adding to her contempt in the eyes of her brothers.  And not unlike Joseph either, the Shulamite was a dreamer.  Having a heavenly purpose for her existence was an anointing that was hidden inside like a flower, but was increasingly emanating a fragrance.
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 She neglects her gift

The Shulamite confesses that she did not guard her garden as she should.  She was young, still maturing, and her heart yearned for love and acceptance.  Symbolically keeping a a garden or vineyard in the Song is also synonymous with a woman’s sexuality, and the absolute purity of such.  Regardless of the layers of meaning to the Shulamite, we at least know that she was not perfect.  She made mistakes.
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 She has a secret

In the midst of all this, the Shulamite is holding onto an incredible and glorious secret.  She is in a romance with a man.  Not just any man, but the man. The King!  They meet in secret, in fruit groves, early in the morning, or whenever she can sneak away from the idle chatter and constant working of others around her.  Sometimes she visits him in the city limits but it seems that most of the time he comes to her.  She gives him her vineyard, Song 8:12.  And like Adam and Eve in the newness of Eden, they climb spice hills, explore forests and fields, and uncover the mysteries of nature together.  When with him, the Shulamite does not think of her lowly status as a working girl.  When with her, the King enjoys peace and rest from the problems and responsibilities of the kingdom.  Their love is pure, abandoned, and uninhibited.
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 She is mistaken as a prostitute

Later in the song there are at least two episodes where the Shulamite is out in the streets looking for her Beloved.  At one point she entrusts the “watchmen of the walls” with the content of her heart, who turn around and accuse her of being ‘loose,’ beating her up and taking away her veil.
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√  She is discouraged by her own friends

It’s hard not to leak the kind of secret that the Shulamite had, even if it just shows on your face.  In the Song she either tells her friends or they find out, but either way the ones who should know her heart best do not believe her.  Thinking they are doing her a favor by bringing her down to their level, they remind her of her/their reproach, and that it’s unrealistic and even wrong, to dream about love and life of that kind.
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[pullquote align=”left|center|right” textalign=”left|center|right” width=”30%”]The Shulamite’s Response…[/pullquote]

Now it becomes challenging for the Shulamite. What will her response be to the “stigma” she carries, and now in relationship to the King?  Will she pull away in fear from tarnishing his reputation, or go somewhere to hide until her blemishes clear up?  What then is she to do with this great love in her heart?
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We know from the song that without skipping a beat it seems, the Shulamite declares that she is “comely” right after confessing she is black.  Then it follows in the rest of the book that she utterly abandons herself to love.
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In the next post we are going to look more deeply at the meaning of this interesting word.  It is not what I thought it meant!  It is so much more.
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Until next time,
Pamela

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¹ 1 Gen. 34, 2 Sam 13
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  1. jimpuntney

    I so thoroughly enjoy following your trek,as you ‘walk out’ The Song. Your ‘eyesight’ is keen, and your heart is pure.

    Thank you for your ministry of Love!

    1. Pamela

      Your love is a gift to me, Jim. :)

  2. Jamal Jivanjee

    Pamela, this post it absolutely stunning. It brings me much comfort and encouragement. I resonate with this ‘stigma’ of love, as I know you do as well. I can’t thank you enough for writing this!

    1. Pamela

      Thank you Jamal, for reading, and your comment. “The fellowship of His sufferings” is very precious. So is the place you have in my heart these days.

  3. Mia

    Dear Pamela
    Yes, dear one, we do carry the scars of Jesus in our bodies for it is only after we have spent all that we call “self” without any success that we learn to trust only in our Beloved! What a great post, thanks.
    Blessings XX
    Mia

    1. Pamela

      True words, Mia. It’s always great to hear from you.:)

  4. Marsela Sava

    Dear Pamela,
    This is my first time on this blog. Thanks for this post, there is a lot to ponder. To me is interesting the fact that the Shulumite mentions “I’m black” right after she had said the King has brought me into His chambers. The Bridegroom leads her into the secret place of His presence – the chambers of the King. And in due time she will become a worshiper of the King at His table( verse 12) and a little latter she will rest with infinite delight in the banqueting table of the King ( 2 :4), but it looks like she first will be a learner in the chambers of the King. In His presence she forgets of herself, rejoices in the Bridegroom and His love. But as result of having been in His chambers, she gets a true estimate of herself, so that before others she owns her true condition. Discovering what we are in the presence of all that Christ is, we can use the language of the bride ” I’m black” as black as it can get, like the tents of Kedar. But if we learn what we are in the presence of Him who is the King, we also learn what His grace has made us, and while owing we are black, we can also add, “but lovely”, like the beautiful curtains of Solomon’s temple. These are lessons that all God’s people learn. In the presence of God Job had to say” I am vile”. In the sanctuary the psalmist says ” I was as a beast before The”. In the presence of His glory Isaiah says ” I am unclean”. In the chambers of the King we learn these great truths . The infinite worth of Christ and His love, the utter vileness of all we are by nature, and the loveliness His grace has put upon us. Sorry for the long comment.

    1. Pamela

      Dear Marsela, Oh, please, no apologies for a long comment, it is wonderful to make your acquaintance and I really appreciate your thoughts. Since you are new to the blog you may enjoy the previous post to this one, “Being Gazed Upon,” which touches on what you shared. I like what you brought out that this confession of hers comes after being in His presence (i.e. chambers). Those who have been with Him cannot help but come into contact with light, and they will come out glowing. Thus the conflict within ourselves and, with others. It is an increasing tension as we approach the final consummation when Jesus Christ will fill all things.

  5. Brittany

    This brings to mind a dialogue that is played throughout Scripture…

    “I am very dark, but lovely. Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.”

    “Your renown went forth among the nations because of your beauty, for it was perfect through the splendor that I had bestowed on you.”

    “I am a sinful man, O Lord.”

    “Behold, you are beautiful, my love; behold, you are beautiful!”

    “I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes.”

    “You are altogether beautiful, my love; there is no flaw in you.”

    “When I want to do right, evil lies close at hand.”

    “Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven.”

    “For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh.”

    “And you have been filled in him.—Mature in Christ. You were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.—That you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.”

  6. Pamela

    Thank you for sharing this Brittany, it’s beautiful. I see in it a ‘reducing’ happening, so that in the end, Christ in us is the only identity that remains. What I am intrigued about in the Song is that it has but these two verse seemingly expressing the struggle, but quick as a wink she makes an about turn and receives this new identity. And then it follows of course that she spends the rest of the book reveling in it. :-)

  7. Shelby Shock Marsh

    In light of Him, our perception of not only others, but also ourselves are changed. The deep, intense love that He has for us makes no sense in the natural. I’ve never been loved like this before. This post encourages me to let go of what i think about myself and just revel in His great love. Thanks yet again, Pamela. Your insight is so encouraging! Love you!

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