"Who is this coming up from the wilderness leaning on her Beloved?" (Song of Songs 8:5a)

It was Bill Withers first and only number one hit when it was released in 1972. Since that time, "Lean On Me" has been recorded and re-recorded numerous times by a whole slew of artists from Johnny Cash to Carol King to James Taylor to Johnny Mathis to Anne Murray - and the list goes on and on. It still is ranked at 205 on the Rolling Stone's list of the '500 Greatest Songs of All Time'. What makes it so special is that it hits right at the heart of a need felt by us all, at one time or another - the need for a helping hand and for companionship in the midst of our troubles. "Lean on me, when you're not strong, and I'll be your friend, I'll help you carry on; for it won't be long 'til I'm gonna need somebody to lean on." We can all identify with these lyrics for which one of us has not known loneliness? Who among us has not hit rock bottom at some time or another? When have we not been confronted with our own inadequacies to cope and we needed the help of another? - help, as Withers put it, "to carry a load that you can't carry".

The Song of Songs is a beautiful allegory that speaks of the mystical union between Christ and His Church, the Bridegroom and His Bride. All of the actions and descriptions and intercourses are designed to direct the faith of the believer to his or her blessed Savior and to show Jesus to be the one true love of our lives and the all-sufficient Provider for whom we yearn. That is why the Shulammite woman is so desperate to find her Beloved and to rest in His arms.

Apart from Him she (all believers) is swarthy and burnt (1:6) with no beauty of her own, but in the eyes of her Beloved she is beautiful and lovely. Truly this describes the Church of Jesus Christ, a people who have uglified ourselves by our sins and transgressions. However, in Christ we have been made lovely once again as our sins are removed.

But today I direct your attention here to this beautiful image of the Bride coming up out of the wilderness leaning on the arm of her Beloved. Here in these brief words is captured the essence of the believer's walk with Christ for we are shown the necessity of our dependence upon Him, not simply at the start of our Christian walk, but every step along the way. Without the mighty arm of our Beloved, none of us could cope with the pressures of life; none could rise up above our troubles; none of us would safely arrive at our blessed home of rest.

First of all, notice from whence we are brought by our Beloved - the wilderness. It was into our wilderness of sin that Christ came to seek us in order that He might lead us forth from it into green pastures. The wilderness here represents the fallen-ness and evil of this present world and of our own sinful lives. It is up and away from this that Christ Jesus leads us. Our Westminster Shorter Catechism teaches that when man sinned, all mankind fell into an estate of sin and misery. Furthermore, question nineteen explains that our misery consists in a loss of true communion with God, and our falling under His wrath and curse. Therefore, we are "liable to all miseries in this life, to death itself, and to the pains of hell for ever." But then we come to question twenty which asks: "Did God leave all mankind to perish in the estate of sin and misery?" - and the answer is 'No', but "God having, out of his mere good pleasure, from all eternity, elected some to everlasting life, and entered into a covenant of grace, to deliver them out of the estate of sin and misery, and to bring them into an estate of salvation by a Redeemer." It is this Redeemer that we see here in our verse - the Beloved. It is He who was sent down into our wilderness to bring us up.

Secondly, our verse also addresses the contentedness of us, as believers, as is seen here in the one being ushered up out of the wilderness - a deep satisfaction in the companionship and in the strength of the Beloved that offsets her own weakness. Notice she is leaning on her Beloved. The way is hard. They are climbing (ascending) and the pilgrimage is tiring. But in her Beloved there is ample strength for her.

This text wonderfully points out the need for us, not only to freely acknowledge our weakness - our need of an arm upon which we might lean - but also, to recognize in Jesus the help and strength that we so desperately need, and to exercise a daily faith by turning away from ourselves to lean on Him. We do this by relying on His Work and not our own works for salvation. We do this by running to Him even when filled with shame over our sinfulness, not allowing our accuser to discourage us from seeking out the embrace of our Beloved.

It is also an exercise of faith for us to yield ourselves to be led by our Savior up away from the false contentments of this world - the temporal, fading things of this life that can never satisfy - in order that we might be lead by Him into that prepared place of peace and rest.

Upon WHOM or WHAT are you leaning? Are you trying to make it by your own strength? What are you looking to for the filling up of the needs in your own life? Have you considered Jesus? In no other will you find a more faithful friend and He invites you to come and lean on Him.

The Rev. Donald Caviness is pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia, MS.