My Beloved: His Belly
Song of Solomon 5.14 “His belly is as bright ivory overlaid with sapphires”
Although our western minds regard the heart as the organ of emotion and feeling, it was not so with the Hebrew mind. To them the belly (often translated bowels) was the seat of tender affection. We see this with Joseph when “his bowels did yearn upon his brother, and he … wept” (Genesis 43.30). The truth is clear, the belly for the Hebrew mind was the centre of visceral emotion.
The two materials mentioned here are metaphors for wealth and abundance. Ivory is a material associated with riches on earth (1 Kings 10.18, Amos 3.15), but sapphire is often associated with heaven (Ezekiel 1.26, 10.1). The first mention of it is when Moses and the 70 elders see God and "under His feet as it were a pavement of sapphire stone, like the very heaven for clearness" (Exodus 24.10, ESV).
The description then is of a compassionate man who displays the mercy of heaven. As we apply this verse to the Lord Jesus we see the perfect man who was the personification of the mercy of God.
There are three instances in Matthews gospel where we read of the Saviour having compassion on the multitude (ch 9.36, 14.14, 15.32). The gospel of the King presents a benevolent Monarch and not a tyrant.
Matthew says "Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every sickness and every disease among the people. But when he saw the multitudes, he was moved with compassion on them, because they fainted, and were scattered abroad, as sheep having no shepherd." (ch 9.35-36)
We see here the compassion of the Saviour as an evangelist, a physician and a shepherd. He preached to the perishing, He healed the sick and He sought the lost.
Matthew 14 presents to us again the care of a doctor for others. The Lord Jesus has just heard of the beheading of John the Baptist and seeks a quiet place with His own in the wilderness (v12-13). Likely the Saviour desired time alone to contemplate what had occurred. He was not indifferent to the loss of John but appropriately grieved over him. Isaiah rightly said "He hath borne our griefs and carried our sorrows" (ch 53.4). And yet even in the hour of mourning and sorrow He "was moved with compassion" (v14) and healed the multitude. He thought of others before Himself, He attended to their needs and forfeited His rights – He was rich in mercy.
Mathew 15 presents to us the sheer magnitude of His tenderness and care, it is beyond comprehension and calculation. In the wealth of His mercy all and sundry are healed. Note the plural numbers when "great multitudes came unto him, having with them those that were lame (ones), blind (ones), dumb (ones), maimed (ones), and many others, and cast them down at Jesus' feet; and he healed them: Insomuch that the multitude wondered, when they saw the dumb (ones) to speak, the maimed (ones) to be whole, the lame (ones) to walk, and the blind (ones) to see: and they glorified the God of Israel" (v30-31). We see the glory of His mercy in action here and yet after all this He still says "I have compassion on the multitude, because they continue with me now three days, and have nothing to eat" (v32). This is mercy super-abounding; the stores of His sympathy are inexhaustible – He keeps on giving as He feeds 4,000 with a few loaves and small fish.
Matthew has presented to us a triad of occasions, when the Lord Jesus has shown compassion to the multitudes. There is another triplet to be found in this gospel regarding His mercy. Three times we hear individuals cry "Son of David, have mercy on me" (ch 9.27, 15.22, 20.30), and each time He meets them in their need. He is gracious to both great and small.
Matthew has shown in his gospel that "His belly is as bright ivory", the Lord Jesus has shown the compassion of God on earth.
To see the sapphires, we must look to heaven. We might wonder if anything has changed or if His mercy has diminished since He ascended into glory. However, nothing could be further from the truth. We read in the Hebrew epistle of a high priest "who is set on the right hand of the Majesty in the heavens" (Hebrews 8.1). This high priest in heaven is "a merciful and faithful high priest" and "touched with the feelings of our infirmities" (Hebrews 2.17, 4.15). We can come boldly to the throne of grace, and worship in heaven itself, because He is there and His mercy endures forever.
Whether we look at Him on earth or in heaven, we can say with the Shunamite of old "His belly is as bright ivory overlaid with sapphires."