Ready for His Return
By Miriam Nadler
August 23 marks the beginning of the sixth month on the Hebrew calendar: the month of Elul. This month is traditionally a time of spiritual preparation as we approach the Fall Feasts of Israel, beginning with the Feast of Trumpets (or Rosh HaShanah), a day which biblically points to Messiah’s return. The name of this important month can be read as an acrostic, for each of the Hebrew letters in Elul (alef, lamed, vav, lamed) corresponds to each word in the phase from Song of Songs 2:16: “ani l’ dodi v’ dodi li” (“I am my Beloved’s and He is mine.”) As we enter this month, how can we be preparing our hearts to worship our beloved Messiah?
So many things distract us from keeping the Beloved as the true focus of our faith. We can learn from the example of the Shulamite woman in the Song of Songs who declares her love in the midst of her daily routine while she eagerly waits for her beloved to return. She says:
“Catch the foxes for us, the little foxes that are ruining the vineyards, while our vineyards are in blossom. My beloved is mine, and I am his; He pastures his flock among the lilies.” (Song of Songs 2:15-16)
Foxes are very common in Israel and are particularly fond of grapes. These pesky creatures burrow holes around the gardens. Unless strictly watched, they would destroy whole vineyards. The fox is mentioned in the Song of Songs because this cunning animal could destroy the Shulamite’s ability to wait with eager anticipation for her beloved.
The ancient writer Aristophanes compares foxes to soldiers. Just as foxes consume the grapes of a vineyard, so soldiers would loot and pillage countries through which they passed. Foxes destroy by stealth and cunning. They represent anything that can bring harm to our most important relationship as we eagerly await our Beloved One.
The Shulamite woman realizes there may be little irritations that could begin to destroy her trust and love for her beloved. She speaks of how he will not be home until evening, at the end of the day when his work is done:
“He pastures his flock among the lilies. Until the cool of the day when the shadows flee away, turn, my beloved, and be like a gazelle or a young stag on the mountains of Bether.” (Song of Songs 2:16-17)
While she is waiting, she desires to catch the little foxes; notice the phrase as the end of verse 15 above: “while our vineyards are in blossom.” In other words, she knows that she needs to catch these foxes while love is blossoming, so their love for one another will not be thwarted.
With his late arrival, the Shulamite woman could become impatient and complain about her beloved, overcome by negative thoughts. However, instead of allowing her thoughts to be corrupted, she declares her love: “My beloved is mine and I am his.”
She is assured and confident in his love for her. She declares, “I am for him and he is for me. We love and trust each other. Our love is mutual: I can trust in his love for me and love him right back.”
However, there are “little foxes” that will constantly seek to erode her trust and love. These little foxes can be seeds of distrust, complaints, or even false teaching that will corrupt the heart and mind. In Ezekiel 13, we learn that if a person keeps his mind fixed on false information or teaching, it will corrupt the heart of the listener:
“Thus says the Lord God, ‘Woe to the foolish prophets who are following their own spirit and have seen nothing. O Israel, your prophets have been like foxes among ruins.” (Ezekiel 13:3-4)
Are there little foxes spoiling the special relationships you have? This consideration can apply to a relationship with a spouse or close friend, but most importantly it speaks to one’s relationship with the living God, your Beloved. In our preparation for Him, we need to examine our lives and watch out for the small things. David’s prayer in Psalm 19:12-14 has become the prayer of my heart during this month of Elul:
“Who can discern his errors? Acquit me of hidden faults. Also keep back Your servant from presumptuous sins; let them not rule over me; then I will be blameless, and I shall be acquitted of great transgression. Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in Your sight, O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.” (Psalm 19:12-14)