CELEBRATION OF LOVE Song of Songs 1–8
“I belong to my lover, and his desire is for me” (Song 7:10).This ancient love song reminds us to rejoice in God’s gift of marital intimacy, and to welcome that gift without hesitation or shame.
Debate concerning Song of Songs focuses on two questions: What is this poem really about? and, What is the role of Solomon? Some have been uncomfortable with the erotic elements in this poem, and have sought to “sanctify” them with a typical or allegorical interpretation. Commentators have suggested the poem is actually about the relationship between God, as Lover, and His Old Testament or New Testament people as His beloved. It is best, however, to take the book in its plain sense as love poetry, celebrating the joys of desire and intimacy experienced by a man and woman who become husband and wife. In this view there is nothing vulgar or “unspiritual” in the experience of sex, which God created to deepen the bond of commitment in marriage. The text identifies this love poem as “Solomon’s.” Many characteristics of the Hebrew text suggest an ancient origin, and there is no good reason to doubt that it does date from the 10th century G.p. Still, Solomon’s role is not clear. Some believe that this love poem was not composed by him, but was dedicated to him on the occasion of one of his weddings. However we understand Solomon’s role, Song itself remains one of the world’s most sensitive and beautiful poems; a joyous and moving celebration of married love.
This lyric poem captures the joy and passion of two people who fall in love (1:1–2:7), experience growing desire (v. 8–3:5), and marry (v. 6–5:1). They are separated for a time (v. 2–8:4) but then are united again (vv. 5–14).
Understanding the Text
“Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth” Song 1:1–2:7. Falling in love was as delightful for the ancients as for us. He sees her as the “most beautiful of women,” while she thinks, “How handsome you are, my lover!” It’s almost impossible not to think of the modern teenager, who breathlessly tells her friends how she was almost ready to faint when he touched her, when we read, “Strengthen me with raisins, refresh me with apples, for I am faint with love” (2:5). There’s something special about first love. For those of us who have been married for years, this section of Song reminds us—and helps us appreciate the mature love that has grown from those early, giddy feelings. This poem alternates speakers, sharing the thoughts of the Beloved, the Lover, and a chorus of friends. The niv identifies each speaker.
“I looked for the one my heart loves” Song 2:8–3:5. The old saying, absence makes the heart grow fonder, is reflected in the longing expressed in these verses. “Let my lover come into his garden” Song 3:6–5:1. Many believe Solomon, seen approaching with a host of retainers in 3:6–11, met the bride-to-be while visiting his kingdom in disguise. On his return she discovered her lover was king of the land, who intended to take her to his royal palace. The next major section describes the physical charms of the bride (4:1–15), and finally moves to the marriage bed (v. 16–5:1). There in delicate symbolism that is found often in ancient Near Eastern love poetry, the lover comes “into his garden” to “taste its choice fruits.” While the imagery is delicate and tasteful, its erotic intent is unmistakable. (See DEVOTIONAL.) “Where has your lover gone, most beautiful of women?” Song 5:2–8:4 Again the lovers were separated. Each was restless, and thought of the other’s charms. The memory of their intimacy had not reduced, but intensified their desire. “I have become in his eyes like one bringing contentment” Song 8:5–14. Reunited, the couple retreated to enjoy their relationship, and they learned that a love that burns “like blazing fire” does in time become a comfortable intimacy “bringing contentment.”
Recapturing Sexual Love(Song 4:1–5:1)
“Sex” has been a four-letter word for far too many years. Playboy, the movies, and increasingly TV, exploit our sexuality by portraying situations that titillate and arouse. We can pick up the telephone, dial a number, and listen as a stranger invites us to imagine joining her as she describes explicit sex acts. Even PG-13 films now strive not only for a quota of filthy language but also a quota of scenes advertising immorality. What’s happened is that the world has recognized the importance of sex, and set about so distorting sexuality that Christians have become somewhat embarrassed about being sexual creatures. Reading Song of Songs, and especially these verses that so erotically and yet sensitively portray sexual love, reminds us that Hollywood didn’t invent sex. God did. It reminds us that sex isn’t “evil.” Sex is a gift given to us by God. Our Creator, who made us male and female, designed our bodies for every sexual delight. And He sanctified sex by making foreplay and intercourse a bonding act, intended to unite one man and woman in a unique and exclusive relationship. It’s this that we Christians have to recapture. We need to cleanse from sex that slimy but tingly sense of sin with which it is associated in the modern world. We need to purify our marriages of any residue of shame. And we need not only announce to the world that sex in Christian marriage is a pure and fulfilling delight, but also commit ourselves to exploring that delight fully with our spouse. It is perhaps here that Song of Songs makes its greatest contribution to our lives. It reminds us that sex-talk can be beautiful, and need not be dirty. And it reminds us that true spirituality does not rule out the full enjoyment of the sexual side of married life.
Recapturing sex from the world begins in the Christian home.