Most days, any number of things can bring me happiness. Pharrell Williams’ “Happy” song, with its repetitive and self-satisfied lyrics, is not one of them — though I don’t begrudge the bouncy fun it brings to many others.
I’m more likely to smile over simple things like the first lily to grace my yard in late spring, or the cluster of others that followed. I marvel at the depth of color, the delicacy of the petals, and the way the blossom bursts from a big bud into full bloom. It’s one among many reminders to be grateful for the amazing world God has given us.
Nice lilies are so impressive, it’s no wonder the old hymn by William Charles Fry sings of Jesus as “the lily of the valley, the bright and morning star, the fairest of ten thousand to my soul.”
Using “Lily of the Valley” as a biblical title for Jesus is not uncommon, though we should note that it has no firm basis in scripture. It’s based on a poor but common interpretation of the Song of Songs (or “Song of Solomon”) as an allegory about the relationship between Christ and the church, rather than the celebration of young love that it plainly is.
Beyond that, Song 2:1: “I am a rose of Sharon, a lily of the valleys” (NRSV), might best be understood as being spoken by the maiden rather than the man. The man responds in v. 2 by saying “As a lily among brambles, so is my love among maidens.” The women answers back in v. 3, asserting that the man she loves is like a cultivated apple tree in a wild forest.
So, the “lily of the valley” was neither Jesus nor the male figure in the Song of Songs — nor would we have recognized the flower in question as a lily. The word shoshannat could refer to a broad variety of flowers ranging from the lotus to irises to various wild flowers, and the sort of lilies we recognize are not native to Palestine.
No matter: lilies don’t have to be a biblical moniker for Jesus in order to serve as daily pointers to the Lord of all creation, the one John says was “in the beginning with God,” and “without him not one thing came into being” (John 1:1-3).
When every lily, rose, or periwinkle speaks of a God who loves us, there should be smiles enough for everyone.
Professor of Old Testament at Campbell University Divinity School in Buies Creek, North Carolina, and the Contributing Editor and Curriculum Writer at Good Faith Media.