The past two days have left me feeling overtired and subnormal. While prayer has been good, I’ve not been able to complete other things started, or accomplish normal chores. I’ve been busy, but feel like I’ve been spinning my wheels and getting nowhere.
Today’s devotional reading at first seemed pointless, but as I look at it and various comments about it, God has something to say to my situation. The scene is a conversation between two lovers. The man, likely Solomon, is asking his beloved to go with him, perhaps a walk in the garden. He praises her virtues and speaks loving words to her. Then one of them, it is not clear who, says this strange line,
Foxes or jackals often came into the vineyards and ate the grapes. In this case, the vines were in bloom only, but the inference is to make sure the foxes are gone before the grapes appear. Either she is asking him to do it for them both, or he is asking her to do it since this may have been her responsibility prior to their relationship.
This verse has many interpretations. Is this literal, perhaps a suggestion that since she had failed somehow before (1:6), she needed to be more zealous to take care of their vineyards? Or is it less literal and more about tending to any subtle sins that might spoil their blossoming relationship?
From the latter idea, several commentaries suggest that readers apply this to their own spiritual lives. That is, take care of the small things that destroy the work of God in our lives. This could be the first thoughts of actual sin, or any hindrances that keep us from doing what is right. It could refer to any little thing that ruins our judgment, muddies our conscience, perplexes our thinking or discourages our inclination to virtue.
Some theologians suggest these little foxes could also be whispers of false teaching that obstruct the progress of the gospel. These also must be tamed, restrained, or destroyed before they ruin our witness.
I can think of all sorts of examples in both these interpretations. In personal relationships, any problems can become wedges if not addressed. A small doubt leads to mistrust and that can separate two people. A small disagreement can grow into a large feud. Lack of forgiveness can become bitterness and turn our focus from God to self-pity. Attraction to worldly pleasures can start small and eventually turn Christian workers from their primary purpose to share Christ and glorify God.
One writer thinks that despite the endless variety of interpretations, this verse does not represent anything. Instead, this man is inviting the woman to join in some sort of childlike play that young lovers often do. Yet even that has application for those who work all the time and never take a rest from their labors. As another writer says, this could even be her excuse for not going with her young lover —she has work to do in the vineyard.
This “non-interpretation” suggests to me that I’ve made my to-do list more important than it should be. At my age, and with this heart problem, I’ve been somewhat driven to finish things and get my half-done projects off the table. They have lined up and backed up, and are getting too heavy on my mind. I sense from these verses that my ambitions have become more than little foxes and that the Lord is inviting me to do something different. It could be spending more time with Him or chilling out with family and friends. In either case, I need to deal with those foxes.
Lord, I’m from a family that values accomplishment. I know that there is nothing wrong with being busy or getting things done — unless it interferes with the ripening of the spiritual fruit You desire in my life. Work, work, work can keep me from listening to You, from deepening relationships with others, and from getting the rest that my body needs. I need to find a picture of some little foxes and attach it to my chore list as a reminder to not let those things happen. I need to remember that putting a check in all those little boxes is not nearly as important as going for a walk in the garden with You.