Question: "What is the lily of the valley (Song of Solomon 2:1)?"
Answer: The Song of Solomon is an extended love poem. In Song of Solomon 2:1, the woman declares, “I am a rose of Sharon, a lily of the valleys.” Then the man affirms in verse 2, “Like a lily among thorns is my darling among the young women.” Then in verse 3 the woman responds, “Like an apple tree among the trees of the forest is my beloved among the young men.”
In the first verse, the woman says she is a rose of Sharon and a lily of the valleys. Many different plants have been called a rose of Sharon, and we do not know the specific species that is referred to here. There is also some question as to how the lily of the valley is to be identified. Suggestions include wild-growing anemone, hyacinth, tulip, iris, and gladiolus. In any case, the lily of the valley was a beautiful and fragrant plant. In the context of Song of Solomon, it may be that the woman is comparing herself to some common wildflowers that would not necessarily be considered valuable or beautiful when compared to cultivated flowers.
On the contrary, the man sees his beloved as a lily among thorns. Thorns are ugly, unattractive, and uninviting. But his beloved is a lily among the thorns—she stands out in his eyes, and her beauty outshines that of all other women. By the same token, the woman sees her bridegroom as an apple tree among the other trees in the forest—he is unique and valuable in her eyes.
The point seems to be that each lover finds the other superior to all the other options. The bride is a lily, as compared to thorns. The bridegroom is an apple tree, as compared to the other forest trees. There might be a lot of trees in the forest that are large and tall—like the mighty oak or the cedar of Lebanon. A rather small, scrubby apple tree would not seem to be very significant by comparison. However, when one considers the fruit that the apple tree gives, it is extraordinary. A person might chop down any number of trees for firewood, lumber, etc., but would most likely save an apple tree because of the fruit.
The point seems to be that comparing a beloved with others is all a matter of perspective. A lily of the valley compared to cultivated flowers might be rather insignificant, but compared to thorns that grow around it, it is beautiful. An apple tree is not the greatest tree in the forest, but when you consider the fruit that it gives, it is a wonderful tree.
This is the attitude that married people need to have when viewing each other. Each spouse needs to emphasize the positive strengths of the other. If one spouse looks around and starts to compare himself/herself against others who are better looking, more successful, richer, more powerful, more talented, more capable, etc., he or she may begin to feel inadequate or unworthy. It is the responsibility and privilege of the other spouse to point out the strengths and to demonstrate that “I only have eyes for you.” If the other spouse falls into the trap of negatively comparing his or her spouse with others, then things can go downhill quickly. Pornography and so much of what popular media defines as beautiful, sexy, or successful can be devastating to marriages because they set impossible, artificial standards that a spouse in real life can most likely never meet.
Every husband should see his wife as the lily of the valley and thank God for the beautiful and delightful blossom He has provided for him in the wilderness.