God’s Gift of a Normal Life

Updated!

There was once a woman who once complained to her mother of the many hardships that she had faced when she had been growing up. But she found that instead of the sympathy that she had been seeking, she received correction: “See here, I have given you life: that is about all that I will ever be able to give you – life. Now you stop complaining and do something with it.”

The woman who had complained of her hardships later went on to distinguish herself in many ways, once she had come to terms with her personal responsibility before God to make the most of what she had. And this is something also that is true, that life is something that each person possesses, but what develops does depends on that personal responsibility before God to live in his universe and take responsibility for that life.

The gospel of Jesus Christ does promise eternal life to those who come to him by faith to receive his salvation, but the grace of God relates not only to the grace demonstrated and given in salvation, but also to the good things of an ordinary life. The God of the Bible is no scrooge who begrudges people the normal enjoyment of ordinary things and a genuine satisfaction in ordinary circumstances. The ordinary good things are the gifts of what has been called the common grace of God, and all people on this world can enjoy them as a part of their common humanity. In fact, the ordinary good things of life are the remnants of the original goodness of creation since the fall and the expression of his goodness toward our world in his providential care and government of this world.

In the book of Ecclesiastes the Preacher addresses the righteous and wise, and tells them how to live in God’s universe. In this universe he sought out what was good, and drank of all that life had to give to its fullest in every way. From his life of God given wisdom he then imparted guidance that can apply to everyone on how to live wisely in God’s universe, in the midst of an ordinary life. And what he wrote comes to us today as part of God’s Word, and is relevant to us as well, as those who have come to faith in Christ for eternal life and in eternal relationship to the God of the Bible. The Preacher valued wisdom, talked wisdom and advised wisdom, and real wisdom, Biblical wisdom, living in God’s universe according to what God provides and legislates, underlies all he writes. No one really is sure who the Preacher, the author of Ecclesiastes was; it’s not totally unreasonable to believe that the traditional ascription to Solomon is on target, but it may well be another author writing as if he were Solomon, as some do think. But whoever the author really was, the book he wrote, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, continues to speak for us today and continues to express the wisdom he sought to give the people of God. It speaks for us as we may live now, as then, in times of affluence, pleasure and relative prosperity, and as we view the circumstances of our lives and come to ask the same question as the Preacher, “Is this really all that God has for us?”

“Go thy way, eat thy bread with joy, and drink thy wine with a merry heart, for God now accepteth thy works. Let thy garments always be white, and let thy head lack no ointment. Live joyfully with the wife whom thou lovest all the says of the life of thy vanity: for that is thy portion in this life and in thy labour which thou takest under the sun. Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with all thy might; for there is no work, or device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave, whither thou goest”  (Ecclesiastes 9:7-10, King James Version).

God provides the good things of this life for proper enjoyment in a normal life. There are many things which he both permits and even wishes for our normal satisfaction in an ordinary life out of his overflowing goodness to this world. These are not just things that we would normally put on a pedestal and say that if we are living in them that we are being spiritual, but also many aspects of our lives which he has provided for us in his creation as part of our life in his world.

God shows his common grace to us first of all his provision for our physical lives. His common grace is behind the satisfaction of our physical needs for food, drink, clothing and shelter, and as the gifts of his common grace there is a real place for appreciation, enjoyment and satisfaction of his provision. This is the reason that the Preacher starts out with telling the wise and good among God’s people to enjoy God’s provision wisely.

In verses 7-8, where the Preacher is addressing the righteous and wise, who are in God’s hands, he tells them to enjoy the provision which they have from God’s hands. “Go thy way, eat thy bread with joy, and drink thy wine with a merry heart, for God now accepteth thy works. Let thy garments always be white, and let thy head lack no ointment.” White clothing for the Israelites would have been good and clean clothing, but not necessarily rough work clothes, bread and wine are part of a normal meal, and anointing one’s head was a part of having a celebration. This is their food and drink and their good clothing, and they are to enjoy it without gloom or guilt, and with an attitude of joy and celebration. This is a common good, where a person who is living in faith and obedience toward the God of the Bible can legitimately and properly enjoy what God has given as a reward for one’s personal labor and those things which are allowed and certainly good in themselves as the gifts of God. This is legitimate scriptural sanction for making ordinary mealtimes and gathering together a daily celebration of the goodness of God and an expression of thanksgiving for his provision. This would also be a realization of God’s gracious approval of our legitimate and lawful daily labor for our provision in the path of our obedience to him, which is what the phrase means which the King James translates, “God now accepteth thy works.” So, the Preacher, speaking in the wisdom and power of the Spirit of God, tells the people of God that their daily work is a legitimate good, and enjoying the fruits of their labors in a kind of a daily celebration, is something that God takes pleasure in. God’s common grace in his provision through work and the fruits of labor is certainly part of the creation ordinance, and his provision is to be received with thankfulness and celebration.

This teaching of the Bible in taking pleasure in the provision of God is certainly throughout the Old Testament, and it carries through to the New Testament as well. One of the things that his enemies tried to bring up against Jesus Christ was that he came, “ . . .  eating and drinking . . .” (Luke 7:34) as he associated with the socially disapproved ‘sinners’ who needed to hear him and follow him. This enjoyment of God’s provision was also pointed out by the apostle Paul as a legitimate benefit for his messengers who lived by the support of the church: “Don’t we have the right to eat and drink?” (I Corinthians 9:4). And he went further to apply this line of teaching to all believers in I Timothy 4:1-5: “The Spirit asserts clearly that in later times some will depart from the faith and give heed to deceiving spirits and the teachings of demons, who will be hypocritical liars and who will be seared in their consciences, who will seek to prevent marriage and to abstain from foods which God has created to be received with thanksgiving by those who are believers and who have come to know the truth. For everything that God has created is good, and it is not to be pushed aside but to be received with thanksgiving, because it is made holy through the Word of God and prayer.”

Throughout the centuries since Christ, then, there have been many in the church of Jesus Christ who seem to have missed this clear line of teaching throughout the Old Testament and the New Testament. There has often been an unreasonable asceticism with many believers who do not recognize the genuinely good things which God has given in their lives and taken legitimate enjoyment of them. But there is no guilt necessary in doing so, and there is no recommendation before God in personal deprivation for the sake of deprivation. A deprivation complex, in which believers can find it difficult to live without some sense of guilt in legitimate and lawful pleasures and some sense that God does not want them to enjoy his goodness, is something does not come from an appreciation of the work of the God of the Bible in his creation and providence. There may be some fear that this kind of enjoyment is or might lead to worldliness, or some idea that God prefers for his people to live in a second rate, mediocre life that lies behind a deprivation complex. Certainly there is need for giving to the poor, to use our surplus compassionately, to give for the furtherance of the gospel worldwide,  and even to allow for the loss of all material possessions out of loyalty to Christ in a situation of severe persecution, and often a wise frugality is necessary to keep our possessions from taking a dearer place in our hearts than Christ holds. Those are all part of scriptural teachings. Certainly a believer in Christ needs to stay from an ingratitude complex as well, and not recognize that the goodness of God’s provision comes from God and his gift to his people of the ability to create wealth (Deuteronomy 8:19). But there is no need for a deprivation complex, since that may actually be a kind of poverty mentality based on feelings of personal unworthiness more than the will of God, or a kind of exaggerated, super-spiritual conception of discipleship to Christ which sees all legitimate enjoyment of God’s provision in this life as a sinful materialism.

Even more, the church has often expressed this kind of deprivation complex toward many who have been in leadership. There has often been an expectation of poverty and deprivation toward those in leadership. Again, this might be out of an undue fear of materialism and worldliness, or an idea that a pastor or leader needs to have less than others in order to live by faith – and this has at times been reinforced by romanticized expectations from the biographies of legitimate Christian leaders. Certainly many leaders did go through times where they did have to trust God for their next meal, but there is no basis in scripture for believers or churches to withhold legitimate support from pastors and leaders when they have the financial means to provide. But what this comes down to  is for the leaders of the people of God, as well as the people of God, is to live in the goodness of God and to enjoy wisely the goodness of God.

Living in the goodness of God and wise enjoyment of the goodness of God will then mean a real satisfaction in what God has graciously provided. There will be less and less a desire for more and more, and a deepening trust in God that his provision has been sufficient and more than sufficient. So much of our desire for more and more comes from an idea that we deserve it or that we need it to keep up with or to surpass someone else on whom we have been keeping an envious eye. It will mean less attention to what someone else may have and more grateful attention and satisfaction in what God has provided.

I think that this kind of celebration of God’s provision must come from someone who is both praying for sufficiency and obeying the scriptural call for satisfaction in God’s provision. Here’s the prayer for God’s sufficiency:

“Two things have I required of thee,
deny me them not before I die:
Remove from me vanity and lies:
give me neither poverty nor riches;
feed me with food convenient (sufficient) for me:
Lest I be full, and deny thee,
and say, Who is the LORD?
or lest I be poor, and steal,
and take the name of my God in vain.”

(Proverbs 30:7-9).

And here’s the command to satisfaction in God’s provision:

“Let your way of life be free from the love of money. Be satisfied with what you have, because he himself has said, ‘I will never leave you nor abandon you’; so that with confidence you will say
‘The Lord is my helper,
I will not fear;
what can any human being do to me?’”

(Hebrews 13:5-6).

But there’s more to what the Preacher had to say to the wise and good among God’s people about God’s good intentions for them for their life in his universe. His intention is for family life to be a source of legitimate enjoyment and pleasure for his people. The goodness of family life, as God intended, was supposed to be a great source of enjoyment and satisfaction for his people. This is why the Preacher tells the wise and good among God’s people to pursue their marriages wisely.

In verse 9, the Preacher goes on to tell the wise and good men among God’s people to enjoy life with their wives: “Live joyfully with the wife whom thou lovest all the says of the life of thy vanity: for that is thy portion in this life and in thy labour which thou takest under the sun.” He takes it for granted that there is love between husband and wife in the marriages among the wise and good people among the people of God. Their parents and families would certainly have had a role in arranging the wedding and marriages among the Israelites that the Preacher was addressing, but there was a real place for love in marriages in the ancient world, and there was usually, outside the royal family, a place for refusal of a marriage to a person where there was no love. But the Preacher goes on, in the wisdom and inspiration of the Holy Spirit, to tell them to enjoy life with their wives that they loved, and that their enjoyable family life needs to be at least shared good times. Though this life is not an end in itself, as the whole world and the life in this world is not an end in itself, but is considered vanity, an emptiness like a wind, there is a legitimate scriptural place for an enjoyable family life as part of God’s common grace to humanity. Though this world will often not make sense, that our efforts and goals will sometimes seem like they are simply vanity and an empty wind, God has provided in family life a source of shared satisfaction for his people.

The Bible is throughout the Old Testament and New Testament, full of this  understanding of marriage as a good thing as a part of the creation of God. This is the basis of the Preacher telling the people of God to enjoy marriage and enjoy life in marriage together. This is why God created marriage as part of the creation of man and woman in Genesis 1 and 2. This is why in Proverbs Solomon affirmed marriage as well, when he said, “ . . . rejoice in the wife of your youth . . .” ( Proverbs 5:18). And that is why we find in the Old Testament the Song of Solomon, the Biblical celebration of married love. But even more, we find that Jesus Christ himself affirmed the Old Testament teaching of marriage as part of the original, good creation of God as well: “From the beginning he made them ‘male and female.’ (Quotation and endorsement of Genesis 1:27). ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and join himself to his wife, and the two will become one flesh,’(quotation and endorsement of Genesis 2:24) so that there are no longer two but one.'” (Mark 10:6-9).

The development of shared good times is an often underemphasized bond of marriages, and it is something that many families and marriages need to consider and to work on, as part of God’s will for their enjoyment of the marriage and family he has provided. Too often marriages and family life may be sought as an escape from a bad family situation or upon the basis of shared pain rather than a legitimate fellowship of man and woman based upon good, desirable qualities and good times together. There is a real and proper concern for a couple to develop common interests and activities together and to appreciate each other’s good qualities together, and there is a real place for recognizing that this comes from God, the originator of marriage and family life: “Whoso findeth a wife findeth a good thing, and obtaineth favor of the LORD” (Proverbs 19:22).

It bears mentioning, then, that this statement of the Preacher on the development of this foundation of shared good times and understanding of and appreciation for the good qualities of a potential spouse is the only scriptural basis that I can find for the practice of dating before engagement and marriage. That has been the cultural pattern since the 1920’s in the United States, and, I think, slightly earlier in some places in Europe. I’m not seeking here to offer a Biblical critique of this pattern as it has existed since then, since I think that scripture does not offer a set cultural pattern of how to get to marriage for men and women. If shared good times and an appreciation of the good qualities of a spouse can carry through into a sound godly marriage with continued and deepened shared good times and deepening mutual appreciation of the good qualities of both spouses, then it really can be said that God has blessed the pattern of dating, engagement and marriage as it has existed in the lives of those involved. The command of scripture is that “ . . .  marriage is to be honored among all . . .” (Hebrews 13:4), and honor to marriage most certainly means much more than warnings against sexual involvement before marriage. It certainly means marrying wisely and living in marriage wisely according to the Word of God.

My experience and observations, though, is that our churches have often done too far little to prepare the foundation for godly marriages among adolescents and young adults: there is too little preparation and guidance on marrying wisely, and I think that lies at the bottom of why so many marriages among believers have often gone on the rocks. Churches have often given far too little attention to the development of the godly character traits that make a person a good candidate for a spouse – the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23) and moving away from the meanness and selfishness that spoil many relationships. In our youth and college groups often leaders have treated couples who look physically attractive together, socially compatible and popular and who may date for a long time as being good candidates for marriage when those characteristics are insufficient in themselves for a lasting marriage. The conclusion is that because they look good together, they’re destined to be married eventually. Moreover, there has often been a childish, giggly obsessiveness among many, including some pastors, spiritual leaders and middle aged women, in our churches, for trying to ‘fix up’ single adults when such pressure and interference is neither welcome nor wanted.  And many professed believer as well approach dating, courtship, engagement and marriage as a path to fulfill dreams and desires that they have had since childhood, and which may have never been subjected to an adult wisdom and walk with Christ, or as fulfilling a set agenda of personal characteristics and timetable, and so on. And often enough, the preparation of marriage has been a few classes or counseling sessions after a couple has already become engaged, and then the time may be too late, as the engaged couple may simply continue stubbornly to a pending wedding and marriage when all the indications are that they are simply not marrying wisely. And marrying wisely is not necessarily something that easily happens for those who come through the social atmosphere of spiritual, social and emotional immaturity of many churches and youth groups, or if someone comes from a family background where there was not much understanding of what it takes for marrying wisely. And I’ll submit that one far underemphasized ingredient to marrying wisely is not to do so as the sole basis of one’s happiness, nor to fulfill one’s own selfish wants and demands in that relationship, but to glorify God in one’s own dating, courtship, engagement and marriage. And this is the reason for parents and churches to pray and seek wisdom for wise – not self pretentious, controlling or interfering — guidance and encouragement to young adults to marry wisely, so that they may show the glory of God in their dating, courtship and marriages.

But getting back to what the Preacher was saying, about enjoying life with one’s wife. Put into perspective, this would bring us back to the realization that marriage and family life is part of God’s provision for our legitimate enjoyment in this life. By itself it will not make anyone happy – that will come from God himself. Nor will it provide anyone with a way out of a broken past to someone who can and will carry you emotionally, independently of God –putting those expectations on anyone in marriage, to make you happy independently of God is making the marriage and the spouse an idol. But rather, this puts marriage into place as a good gift of God for the formation of a reasonably happy earthly life. This is like what Theodore Roosevelt said at the time of his re-election to the office of the Presidency of the United States: “As I went up the White House steps, Edith met me at the door, and I suddenly realized, after all, no matter what the outcome of the election was, my happiness was assured – that even though my ambition was to have the seal of approval put upon my administration might not be gratified, my happiness was assured – for my life with Edith and my children constitutes my happiness.”

The God of the Bible is no cosmic killjoy. Rather, he seeks for the legitimate good his people, and there is a legitimate enjoyment of good things that he gives in the circumstances of earth for the believer who is headed for heaven. Certainly there are the scriptural limitations that these things are not to captivate one’s heart to the loss of love for God, nor is there to be any unwillingness to sacrifice them for the sake of Christ and the gospel should persecution come. But in scripture there is definitely a legitimate enjoyment of what God has given, and there is no basis for an attitude of undeserved guilt or unworthiness of what God has given in his common grace in his creation nor an unscriptural disparagement of them for anyone who is saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ and living and keeping in step with the Spirit of God.

The blessings of the common grace of God, though, do require human effort for their development and enjoyment. That turns out to be part of the work that God has given all on earth to do, and that calls for more than a matter of fact attitude. And that’s what the Preacher goes on to tell the people of God. The enjoyment of the normal life that God gives calls for pursuing the activities of life with legitimate passion and enthusiasm. In whatever there is to do that is legitimate, lawful and good under the provision, care , there can be real passion and enthusiasm for pursuing it. There is no need for any kind of hard bitten cynicism born of a phony toughness nor languid passivity born of foolish dependency among the men and women who know the God of the Bible, but a real and deep enthusiasm and passion in their lives as they live in the universe of their God.

First, the legitimate, godly passion and enthusiasm for the normal activities of life means a wholehearted effort in whatever one does in this life. This effort is the realization that God has given the opportunity and the ability to pursue all this for the sake of God. And this means plunging into the legitimate tasks at hand without reservation from a reluctant asceticism, a baseless sense of unworthiness or a languid sense of being privileged or entitled not to have to put in passionate, diligent and enthusiastic effort.

In the first part of verse 10, the Preacher tells the wise and righteous among the people of Israel, “Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with all thy might . . .” This command to do the task at hand, with all one’s might, can be followed with passion and enthusiasm in all the normal tasks of life and in all the ways of faith and righteousness. Passion and enthusiasm come with the realization that that in these pursuits the blessing of God is upon his people. Though there may be tasks and pursuits that are in themselves hard and difficult at times, his people can rest assured that God is not working within that situation to stymie their efforts, to frustrate them and to give them a hard time, but rather that he is on their side and seeking to bless them in the midst of all that they find to do in his will. And again, this same thread of teaching continues into the New Testament as well, where it can be seen in what the apostle Paul wrote in Colossians 3:17: “And whatever you do in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, as you give thanks to God the Father through him.”

This is where I part company with some Christian leaders who preach mournfully and gloomily about how hard it is to follow Christ. It isn’t hard to live the Christian life under your own power apart from the fullness of Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit, it’s impossible! But even more, where it’s often hard and practically impossible is where you may see living the Christian life as living to please other Christians and to live up to the artificial, impossible expectations of other Christians. Too often when it comes to some other believers, nothing you can do is ever right, because it isn’t what they would do in your situation or what they think you should do or what they have discussed behind your back and heard from or told others what you should do.

Rather, I’ve found that the God of the Bible is a lot easier to live with than many, many believers that I have known over the years, and he takes much greater pleasure and enjoyment in our passion and enthusiasm for the normal activities of the life in his world and the pursuit of his will than we would normally imagine. And I’ve also found that he takes greater displeasure in the antics of bitter and backslidden believers who attempt to throw obstacles and confusion in the path of believers who are pursuing him and his will with all their hearts than many, many of us would ever imagine. Usually it’s not hard to find this passion for the will of God in believers who have recently come to faith in Christ, but more often it’s much  harder to find in someone who has remained in spiritual immaturity for a long period, so much so, that it’s hard to find any evidence of a genuine salvation left in that person. So then, I would advise any professed believer who would try to throw obstacles, sabotage and confusion in the path of any other believer who is pursuing the will of God with all his or her heart to consider this terrifying promise, from the lips of Jesus himself: “It is necessary that stumblingblocks to sin would come, but too bad for the one through whom they are coming! It would be better for that person if a millstone were slung around his neck and he were to be cast into the sea than to trip up into sin one of these little ones” (Luke 17:1-2; see also Matthew 18:6-7 and Mark 9:42).

After long consideration, I think that this is a passage that I would preach on again at some point if I were to be in a position to preach again in a church which has a history of internal conflict and long declines. Jesus usually saved his most extreme language for these kinds of situations definitely to express how serious these situations are to God, and I’ve found that these verses do have a way of shocking the bitter and backslidden believers who out of their arrogance, self deceit and vicious cunning try to undermine and sandbag other believers in their passionate pursuit of the will of God. What it will be that will be worse than being thrown into the sea to be drowned isn’t something that Jesus spells out here, and I think that it may be the reason that we may not often see immediate discipline and judgment of the professed believer giving others a hard time for pursuing the will of God with all their hearts. The Lord Jesus may well be saving their comeuppance for the day that they see him face to face at his judgment seat, and that’s very definitely something to be very afraid of.

If, then, our leaders and churches are really seriously following the New Testament, our leaders and churches would be only a help to any believer, any follower of the God of the Bible, who is passionately pursuing the will of God. This is the specific assignment to the pastors, teachers and other leaders in Ephesians 4:11-16, and to the whole body of Christ in Hebrews 10:24: “ . . . and let us consider how to stir each other up to love and good deeds . . .”

In this verse, though, the Preacher probably was probably thinking primarily of daily work, and certainly the primary application is to one’s work, employment and vocation. I think that this provides a proper perspective and correction to the attitude many people have today. We look to work, employment and career too much to fulfill us, and I think that by far we have that reversed. Much of daily work may turn out to be tedious, boring and repetitive and therefore not really very satisfying or fulfilling. I think that we within the church need to approach this from the other perspective: that our life and work is to glorify God, and from there we can have men and women satisfied and fulfilled in God living out their work, employment, vocation and careers with passion. The truth is that when we expect to find our satisfaction and fulfillment in our career and employment, we make an idol out of our career and employment, and we will not ultimately find satisfaction and fulfillment there. I have personally witnessed the emotional meltdowns that have occurred in the lives of those who have given all their passion and energy to a corporation and a job and found that all that they had received had been just a series of paychecks. But I’ve never witnessed anything like this at all from anyone who has sought all his or her satisfaction and fulfillment in God and in living with passion to glorify God in all that they say or do.

In these verses the Preacher also provides guidance that also addresses a real need for many believers, and especially those from a dysfunctional family background, for a real passion and enthusiasm for pursuing the normal activities of life in the will of God with passion and enthusiasm. One of the marks of those who come from a dysfunctional family background (really dysfunctional, with real verbal, emotional and physical abuse, chronic unemployment, and long term addictions, not just ‘mildly’ dysfunctional) is the inadequate effort that they put into the duties and and projects of ordinary life. They have a tendency not to complete projects and develop their skills adequately to rise above the lowest levels of ineptitude and mediocrity. Their failures are due to immaturity and ignorance, often, as well as emotional barriers due to continuously hearing the voices of their past as they seek to transcend the brokenness of their past. They may not really understand the discipline and effort necessary to develop real skills and capabilities to live effectively in God’s will. But if you discover the enthusiasm and passion that can come from living in the grace and the will of God for even the boring, routine and ordinary activities of normal life, it’s possible to go beyond the sticky goo of your own background into the depths of knowing and experiencing the eternal and limitless goodness, compassion and wisdom of the God of the Bible. The goodness of an almighty, all wise and all loving God, who is for his people who are pursuing him and his will, can provide that extra push and enthusiasm. He can give that kind of deep motivation and passion for his people to go beyond the adhesive traumas of their past.

This kind of enthusiasm and passion in all the circumstances of life is something was evident in Peter Marshall, the great Presbyterian preacher and chaplain of the United States Senate during the dark years of World War II. At his funeral a seminary classmate said, “We studied and prayed and sang and preached together. God used my friend, and gave to him a joy in studying that proved that he outstudied us all; a joy in singing because he outsang us; and a joy in playing, because he abandoned everything when he could play. The truth is that he outprayed, outpreached and outplayed us. Why? Because he had sought and found delight in the doing of God’s will.”

And a real impetus to our passion and enthusiasm for living out God’s will in the daily activities of our normal life can come from the realization that there will be no second chances for life. Thus wherever anyone is, the fact is that there will be no earthly life to live over again. This means that each earthly opportunity must be lived to its fullest advantage.

And so the Preacher seems to end this paragraph at the end of verse 10, like so many in the book with a downer: “ . . . for there is no work, or device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave, whither thou goest.” What he is saying is that there is no way to learn or for a do-over for the circumstances of life once a person has gone the way of the grave. Here the Preacher shows the limitation of the understanding that he had of the afterlife upon what the Old Testament of his time had to say. Though the Book of Ecclesiastes is difficult to place in the timeline of the Old Testament as to when it was written, I think that it’s safe to say that he either did not know or did not wish anyone to count on the indications of an afterlife and resurrection that appeared in the prophecies of Isaiah and Daniel as a reason for not living for God in this life to its fullness. This would be consistent with the traditional authorship of Solomon. But even if the Preacher did have more awareness of an afterlife than is evident from that sentence – the assertions of the ultimate judgment of God of every deed with which the book concludes would seem to warrant a final judgment apart from our earthly, physical life – it would seem that this sentence is more about advising the people of God not to slack off in this life, because there will be no opportunity to live out the opportunities in this life once it is over. This would be more in accord with what the apostle Paul wrote in Ephesians 5:15-16: “Watch, then, how you pursue your life, not as fools but as wise people, as you take advantage of this time, because the days are evil.” This seemingly buzz-kill statement of the Preacher then can advise the believer in Jesus Christ to be serious about the consequences of his or her actions here on earth since there will be no second chances to take back and live over this earthly life.

The reality of heaven and the resurrection to come do not then end the need to have a reasonable seriousness about the importance of effort and wisdom in this life upon earth. The realization that there will be no second chances to live the life upon earth should bring us to greater thought and consideration to our actions. It should encourage us to the passion, effort and discipline of a personal investment into this life in the will and path that God has provided and in the power and wisdom which he provides. This means that best possibility of making the most of the chance that God has given his people in the ordinary circumstances and challenges of this life now. And this is the kind of effort that has been at the root of achievements like that of Michelangelo. He had been converted to Christ at the martyrdom of Savonarola, and had already been known as a great sculptor. A jealous rival recommended him to paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel because the rival believed that Michelangelo could not become as great a sculptor as he had been a painter – but with his passion and enthusiasm, one of the world’s great masterpieces of art came to being.

Certainly God is sovereign, but it is a misguided view of his sovereignty, government of this world and providential care that degenerates into an unBiblical fatalism that human effort and consideration do not make a difference in the circumstances of the ordinary life in this world. And certainly there still needs to be a reasonable understanding of one’s own limitations, personal failures and sufferings – there will still be disappointment and heartbreak sometimes despite one’s best intentions and efforts – there is still much that enthusiasm and passion in the will of God can accomplish in the circumstances of this life, as a believer in Christ lives in the will of God. 

Therefore, churches, pastors and believers have been utterly right and truthful in holding forth the gospel of the saving grace of God over the centuries, and the  appreciation of his saving grace is certainly necessary for a full and joyful life in Christ. But there is also a greater need for the understanding and appreciation of the common grace of God, the expression of his overwhelming goodness in the ordinary circumstances of life, and that the good things that we enjoy now come from his hand as well. Though we continue to live in a fallen world, though sin may twist, warp and ruin the goodness of the ordinary things at times, this does not mean that God does not and continues to intend good for us through them. Even more, it means that others can continue to enjoy the gifts of his goodness without any guilt or shame even if we find ourselves not in a situation where we cannot enjoy them in the same way. Therefore, God himself, the source of all goodness, is not to blame if anyone may have missed some of the legitimate enjoyment of the goodness that he has provided for us in this life. Rather, this calls even more for wise passion and enthusiasm of the people of God to live and pursue the gifts of his common grace with wisdom and gratitude.

In this life, the sins of ourselves and of others may hinder, delay or even ruin our enjoyment of God’s goodness in our circumstances. But the saving life of Christ that brings the conquest of sin can often still open the door to the legitimate enjoyment of God’s goodness not only in his salvation to eternal life but also in the common, ordinary circumstances of life. Therefore be ready, the closer that you come to Christ, and the more victory over the sin and gloom of your own heart that you experience by the power of the love, joy and peace of Christ, to find a tremendous enjoyment even of the ordinary things around you, and to find a greater appreciation of the goodness of God that has come to you in those ordinary things.

But in the gifts of the common grace of God that come through his creation and providence, proper wisdom and effort is often necessary to make something out of the opportunities to enjoy his common grace. Certainly this means prayer for his wisdom and strength, seeking wise counsel from the truly wise among the people of God, and then applying oneself to the task at hand, and this while living in the presence of God, in submission to God and in deep appreciation of and gratitude toward God. Therefore apply prayer and effort as you trust God for the strength in Christ to glorify him in the ordinary things of life, since this shows faith in the goodness of God for the legitimate and godly enjoyment of the life he has given you on earth. But finally, before the enjoyment of anything in this life, there needs to come the matter of settling one’s own eternal destiny. So, the first step toward this comes down to entering the kingdom of God through repentance and faith in Jesus Christ alone for your eternal salvation.

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Expediency or Obedience?

There’s a remarkable passage in Stephen Charnock’s The Existence and Attributes of God which speaks to a lot that is expressed in our preaching and teaching today:

“If it be agreeable to God’s will and convenient for some design of our own, and we do anything only with a respect to that design, we make not God’s holiness discovered in the law our rule, but our own conveniency: it is not a conformity to God, but a conformity of our actions to self. As in abstinence from intemperate courses, not because the holiness of God in his law prescribed it, but because the health of our bodies, or some noble contentments of life, require it; then it is not God’s holiness that is our rule, but our own security, conveniency or something else which we make a God to ourselves.”

It troubles me that in so much preaching and teaching that something may be declared as the command of God from his Word, and cited chapter and verse, but it seems that so many are unmoved until the preacher or teacher brings out some quote from some other supposed authority such as a medical doctor, psychologist or psychiatrist, and cites some statistics that people who live contrary to the declared will of God end up unhealthy or unhappy in their marriages or jobs or friendships or even unpopular. Just note when the heads turn and people pay attention: is it when the Word of God is cited or the advice and statistics of the physician or psychologist? (And how much displeasure, bitterness and resentment with others happens in marriages, families, friendships and church fellowships not because someone is disobedient to the clear teaching of the Word of God, but not living up to some expectations fostered by some outside authority upon grounds which come down to the personal expediency of the aggrieved party?)

For the person who has come to faith in Jesus Christ, who is the authority, the Holy Spirit speaking through the Word of God, or the medical doctor or psychologist? And what is the goal, our own being happy and well adjusted in this world, or to be reflections of the holiness of God by the power of the Holy Spirit?

“As obedient children, do not conform yourselves to the desires that you had previously in your ignorance, but as the One who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your behavior, just as it is written, ‘Holy you are to be, because I am holy.’” (I Peter 1:15-16).

The Song of Solomon: the Psalm of Married Love: Part VI: The Resolution of Romantic Gridlock

Lover: 5:1a: Conclusion to the Celebration of Married Love: The chapter break was most insensitive to the flow of the dialogues, since the first two verses of chapter five are the summation of the time of intimacy of chapter 4.

The past tense of the verbs, and the first person singular shows that here Solomon declares his personal satisfaction and fulfillment from the time of intimacy with his Shulammite bride in answer to her invitation in 4:16 to enjoy her love to the fullest.

Friends: 5.1b: This choral interjection of the “friends” (the “daughters of Jerusalem”) would seem to intrude on the lovers’ intimacy and privacy. Perhaps it would be best visualized as a call from outside to their bedroom window (which would be covered with a wooden lattice, not a glass pane or metallic screen).

Beloved: Verses 2-9: Second Dream Sequence: Romantic Gridlock and How to Get Around It

Visualize the Shulammite sitting in a circle with the other young women of Solomon’s court and relating this dream. The dream is a kind of lesson for them and for her.  This is one of the most humorous passages in the entire Bible! Romantic gridlock can make potent comedy, but it can also bring real disappointment, discouragement and pain. In addition, in some ways this dream is also more realistic than the first one that the Shulammite narrates in 3:1-4.  It demonstrates some of the real problems of romantic gridlock that occur even in godly marriages. The motive for the narration of the dream within the context of the Song of Songs would be her desire to resolve a possible situation of romantic gridlock within her own marriage, and conceivably through the mouth of the Shulammite Solomon is teaching everyone something about the resolution of this problem.

V.2: the lover’s hurry to come into her bedroom: note the haste in his voice, as expressed in the quick repetition of the terms of endearment to her, and contrast this to the patient buildup to the time of intimacy from the previous chapter.  Note also the apparent appeal to her compassion in the statement of his being wet and damp from the night air.  Whether this was realistically how Solomon acted at one time or another, it demonstrates that even the greatest lover may have times of ineptitude and insensitivity. What effect should this have on the expectations of spouses, real or potential?

V. 3: The daintiness of the bride: the Shulammite’s thoughts are not for the satisfaction of her poor husband, but for her own cleanliness.  Apparently the floor was either packed dirt or stone, either of which would have dirtied her. Note the conflicting moods and concerns of the lovers.

V. 4:  With most unSolomonic wisdom, the king attempts to get in the door without her assistance.  As this happens, she begins to warm up to his presence and eagerness.

V. 5:  The Shulammite goes to open the door — after having taken a stop to dip her hands in some perfume!

V. 6:  But, by the time she opens the door, he is gone. Apparently he had been discouraged and disappointed prematurely by her delay, and had gone away.  Disappointed herself, she tries to call for him, but he does not come. Whether he was out of earshot is not clear.

V. 7: This time in the dream the city guards treat her like a night thief, and beat her to send her home and “teach her a lesson.” What lesson do you think she actually learns from this?

V. 8: Apparently the dream had the real effect upon her of stirring up her love for Solomon all over again. Perhaps she had the fear that somehow he was actually feeling what he had experienced in the dream. Perhaps she felt that the dream was an indication or warning that somehow she had given him some disappointment through a perceived rebuff at some time.

V. 9: The Shulammite gives the charge to the other women, to tell him her passion for him if they should meet him. In effect, after the resolution of the romantic gridlock within her own heart,  she asks them to become her go-betweens, as she seeks to resolve the romantic gridlock, real or feared, between herself and Solomon. Contrast this to the forwardness she showed in 1:7-8, where she approached him. Perhaps she herself felt some shame and embarrassment at a supposed rebuff.

5:10: The  teasing reply of the friends to the plea of the Shulammite, on why they should be the bearers of the message to him. Do you think that it was right for the Shulammite to seek the assistance of her friends in the restoration of her love life? What guidelines can you come up with from what has preceded this in the Song of Solomon and from scripture as a whole? What is the difference between godly counsel and ungodly interference?

5:11-16: The Shulammite’s description of Solomon emphasizes how he is attractive to her. It is doubtful that she did not expect that these words would not be filtered back to him in one way or another. The occasion calls forth her own powers of metaphorical description, as she reflects back to him how handsome he is to her in terms reminiscent of his own praise of her. Like her, his face is tanned, with black hair, with soft and expressive eyes.

The use of gems  in her description requires some explanation. Chrysolite is a yellow topaz like mineral, and its inclusion with gold emphasizes the tanned appearance of his arms and legs which would have been exposed to the sun outside a tunic or robe. The torso would have a lighter, untanned appearance like ivory, since it would not normally be exposed to the noonday sun. Sapphire is lapis lazuli, a green semiprecious stone valued in the Ancient Near East; the modern sapphire was practically unknown. It is unclear what features of his body would compare to this gem, but the comparison was common in ancient epic and love poetry. Like him, she is describing the appeal of him to her, as he was created to be. Apparently there was as much physical attraction in her for him as there was in him for her.

1. Note how the Shulammite describes Solomon as her friend. What part would the actions and attitudes of friendship, rather than mere romantic overtures,  have on the resolution of romantic gridlock? How does she attempt to appeal to his need, rather than inflame his attraction to her?

2. This  passage suggests one way in which one can learn to express one’s love to a spouse more effectively: by noticing and echoing back the expressions of love which come from the spouse. It is reasonable that the lover would express love in a way in which might reflect the way in which he or she would in turn like to be loved. What can you think of in the attempts of someone of the opposite sex to express love to you that can teach you how someone of the opposite sex might want love to be expressed to him or her? What scriptural principle of conduct does this reflect? If there is a spouse or potential spouse in your life, what would you say are the ways that he or she most needs and seeks for you to give him or her affection?

3. The use of gems and metal in the Shulammite’s description of her husband also suggests a masculine muscularity to Solomon. Earlier in the discussion of feminine beauty, I wrote, “Such areas as diet, exercise, cleanliness, courtesy and tact, and an inner joy and tranquillity have much more to do with the qualities of physical attraction  . . . Moreover, an appreciation of oneself as the creation of God himself should be an encouragement to seek to bring out one’s potential for physical attraction to a level which honors him, your [spouse] and yourself as his handiwork. See Psalm 139:13-14:

“For you created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful,
I know that full well.”

Physical beauty is not to be the sole criterion of one’s attraction to the opposite sex, and it can lead to vain self absorption with one’s appearance. For a believer in Christ, though, this does not lead to vanity as long as it is a sign of respect for oneself as God’s creation . . .  How would this relate to a Christian man seeking to keep himself well groomed and physically fit, and attractive to a spouse or potential spouse?

Concluding question: Why do you think that the Holy Spirit inspired Solomon to include this chapter in the Song of Songs? What message does it hold for godly couples of all ages?

All scripture references taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION, copyright 1973, 1978 by the International Bible Society and used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.

The Song of Solomon: the Psalm of Married Love: Part V: the Husband as Lover and the Wife as Responder

First Soliloquy of the Lover: a Pattern of Gentle, Tactful Wooing: 4:1-15:

This is a scene of sexual arousal. It happens within the bonds of marriage, and is therefore in line with the purpose of God for the way in which he has made men and women to respond to each other.

Solomon begins his soliloquy with the admiration of the beauty of his bride. He admires:

  • In verse 1: the softness of her eyes (the comparison is to the common wood pigeon)
  • In verse 1: the beauty of her black hair (goats in the Middle East are usually black)
  • In verse 2: her perfect white teeth (unusual in an era before dentists)
  • In verse 3: the appeal of her mouth (red with lip coloring)
  • In verse 3: her forehead under her veil (olive skinned and tanned like the skin of a pomegranate). Note here also her wearing the veil (or rather, headdress or “hair covering” ) of a married woman. This further confirms the legal marriage of the man and the woman here.
  • In verse 4:  her neck with a necklace of teardrop shaped plates of silver (looking like a tower hung with shields).
  • In verse 5: he continues with his admiration of more intimate features of her body.

Note that he begins with his gaze into her eyes, and begins to describe her beauty from her face downward. In the privacy of the bedroom then he begins to describe the beauty of her body whose modesty is normally shielded by clothes.

The graphic sensuality and sexuality of this chapter is fatal to the allegorical view of the Song of Songs as a depiction of the love of Christ and his church. The love of Christ and his people is not of this nature. Note also the visual arousal of the man by seeing his wife. Here the way in which he has been created to experience his arousal finds its fulfillment. She is God’s masterpiece for his private admiration and enjoyment (as he is for her also).

In verse 6 Solomon signals that he is willing for this time of intimacy to last all night. In verse 7 , moreover, with the eyes of love, he sees no flaw in her. All this is noteworthy for its gentleness, delicacy and care with which he deals with his bride.

Solomon may well have been in his thirties during the time that this was supposed to have taken place. The Shulammite bride may have only been in her early to mid teens — the usual age for women to be married among the ancient Israelites.Thus, the Song of Songs depicts his wisdom, delicacy and tact in dealing with a beautiful teenage bride. The possible age difference seems strange to a modern reader, but it would have not been unusual in the Biblical era. It does demonstrate the kind of masculine gentleness and tenderness which a husband can imitate just as well with a woman more his age, as is more usual in our day and age.

In verse 8 Solomon gives an invitation to his bride which is admittedly difficult to interpret. Since the areas which he refers to were forested areas with wild animals, it could be a playful way of saying, “Come to me, you wild country woman.”

In verses 9-11  Solomon goes on to declare his romantic infatuation with his bride. Much has been written about the pitfalls of infatuation by evangelical writers, but one thing is clear here: its existence within the bonds of marriage is in line with God’s purpose.

Verses 12-15 are Solomon’s comparison of his bride with a garden and a flowing fountain. Verse 12 is noteworthy for its declaration of her exclusivity for him. (Although Solomon has already professed his utter infatuation with her, it is unfortunate that he could not have likewise professed his exclusivity for her.)

Excursus: The Christian man as a loving husband: God’s provision of an example

One of the problems of men becoming loving husbands is often their lack of an example to follow. One of the most influential images of a man upon a man’s understanding of his own identity over the past generation has been that of man as provider. Thus, many men have considered their duties fulfilled as husband and father with the provision of a steady paycheck. Another image prevalent is that of man as hero (either in war or in sports). Biblically, the image of manhood is man as a son of God by faith in Jesus Christ. This adds another dimension onto that ruling metaphor for the Biblical definition of a man’s identity, to man as loving husband. The married man who follows Jesus Christ is not fulfilling God’s purpose for his marriage or his manhood unless he begins to allow himself to be molded into the kind of  loving husband that he can be by the grace of God. Here God gives an example of marital wooing of a woman as a part of that image.

Single men can likewise find something to learn here about becoming a loving husband, not in action, but in developing and demonstrating the potential. This is the purpose of premarital wooing of a woman: not in seeking any sort of sexual intimacy before marriage but in wooing her toward the commitment of marriage by giving her the assurance of the potential of being a loving husband after marriage.

1. Seek to be gentle and delicate in your admiration of the beauty of your wife.

2. Protect her modesty by being careful to admire in the bedroom what should only be exposed there.

3. Compliment her strong points (and ignore/overlook her weaker points).

4. Express admiration of her and your feelings about her in making the loving invitation to intimacy.

The sweet surrender of the bride: 4:16: The bride gladly expresses her surrender to the loving invitation and advances of her husband. Use your imagination for what tone of voice these words would have been spoken.

Wives: consider how you respond to your husband’ advances. Have you been pettishly rejecting? Or have you been tiredly apathetic? Or joyfully enthusiastic?

The Song of Solomon: the Psalm of Married Love: Part IV: The True Depth of Married Love

Introductory note on the Song of Solomon: its inclusion in the Bible and its value today:

“Can we suppose such happiness unworthy of being recommended as a pattern to mankind, and of being celebrated as a subject of gratitude to the great Author of happiness?” — Johann David Michaelis, 19th century German pastor and theologian

Beloved: 3:1-5: the Shulammite bride apparently recounts a dream of seeking her husband (note the parallel to the dream recounted in 5:2-7). Apparently her dream was that she could not find her husband in bed with her so she went into the city at night to seek him. It would have certainly been unusual for a woman to be out at night alone in the city in the ancient world. Apparently this reflects the subconsious depth and reality of her longing for her husband.

The watchmen (the city guards) were apparently unable to help her. Once she found him, though, she took him to her mother’s house (not the palace bedroom) for a time of intimacy. This conclusion to the dream matches the fantasy she recounts to her husband in 8:2, which reinforces the narration of this dream as an expression of wish fulfillment.

Note the repeated description of her husband: the one my heart loves. Since “heart” meant the seat of thought, the intrusion of this desire for her husband into her dreams demonstrates the depth of her passion for him.

  • The principle of subconscious awareness and desire

The depth of married love is such that it affects our thoughts even when we are not conscious.

In the Bible, dreams are often considered as communication from God: the dreams of  Jacob, Joseph, Pharoah, his cupbearer (the “butler”) and his baker, Nebuchadnezzar, and Joseph the earthly father of Jesus all come to mind. This is an indication that there was also an awareness that these dreams had other meanings. Here it would be more in tune with the modern psychological theory that dreams also express subconscious desires and fears.

Our dreams likewise sometimes depict the fulfillment of our subconsious anxieties, desires and fantasies without being clearly prophetic. It is not superstitious or overly introspective to give consideration to what is in one’s dreams. Many times the dreams depiction of our own anxieties, desires and fears can assist us to understand what is truly on our minds, especially if they include a spouse. Once we can understand our anxieties, desires and fears, we can then confront them in the light of scripture in the presence of the Lord.

Friends: 3:5: a refrain which has already appeared in verse 7: not to try to manipulate love prematurely. Here it seems to reflect the reality that true marital love cannot but show itself in one’s innermost thoughts and desires.

3:6-11: It is not clear who the speaker is here. The verses describe the return of Solomon to Jerusalem with his new bride. The opening question is literally, “Who is this woman . . . ” Her swarthy color from her tan is suggested by comparing her to the column of smoke, but the perfume also stamps her as having been richly endowed by the king.

Without undue spiritualization, this may be seen as an illustration of the wonder of salvation, of the person who has come from the status of sinner and yet still exudes the savor of Christ from his life, because of having been chosen and loved by the king.

The king came back with his royal carriage and retinue of picked warriors (like the ‘mighty men’ of his father David) to bring her to his palace. He wore a new crown for this wedding, the gift of his mother Bathsheba. In ancient weddings the groom went from his home with a group of his friends and relatives to the house of the bride to lead her back to his home, and the king himself did so with his royal procession for this bride.

The retinue of picked warriors demonstrates the king’s care for protection of himself and his wedding party also. The journey from wherever the Shulammite was really from — if from ‘Shulem’ in northern Israel — would be dangerous even for a royal party without suitable protection.

The use of the special carriage also shows the concern of Solomon to use his very best for this special occasion.

For the king this was a special time of joy — a marriage of love and not of politics.  He wore a special crown perhaps as a precursor of the later custom of wearing crowns at Jewish weddings.

The mention of this ceremonious return of Solomon with his bride certainly seems to reflect a literal event. The details are in harmony with what scripture, ancient history and archaeology depict of the early years of Solomon’s reign. The description of the royal carriage of Solomon certainly fits his elegant tastes and interest in fine horses.

  • The principle of remembrance of the first affirmation of the commitment

The wedding ceremony is the public declaration of lifetime love and commitment before friends and relatives. A private recall of the ceremony and reaffirmation of the vows, just between husband and wife, from time to time could be a suitable accompaniment to stir up the romance and recapture the romantic awareness of newlyweds. Here are the vows from the traditional ceremony:

Husband: “I … take thee . . . to be my wedded wife, to have and to hold, from this day forward, for richer,  for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death do us part, according  to God’s holy ordinance and thereto I give thee my troth (promise).”

Wife: “I . . . take thee . . . to be my wedded husband, to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love, to cherish, and to obey, till death do us part, according to God’s holy ordinance, and thereto I give thee my troth.”

All scripture references taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION, copyright 1973, 1978 by the International Bible Society and used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.

The Song of Solomon: the Psalm of Married Love: Part III: PUSHING THE RIGHT BUTTONS

Beloved: 2:1: The Shulammite bride playfully describes herself as a wildflower (the rose of Sharon and the lily of the valleys were flowers that grew and blossomed without artificial cultivation), in short, as a natural beauty in the way that God created her.

  • The principle of godly self understanding

The believer in Christ, man or woman, can be assured in being the creation of God, of his handiwork in his or her appearance.

Do you appreciate the natural features of beauty which are part of the way that God created you? What would you say your strengths are? In what areas could you realistically achieve improvement?

Such areas as diet, exercise, cleanliness, courtesy and tact, and an inner joy and tranquility have much more to do with the qualities of physical attraction than the artificial enhancements of makeup, etc. Moreover, an appreciation of oneself as the creation of God himself should be an encouragement to seek to bring out one’s potential for physical attraction to a level which honors him, your husband and yourself as his handiwork. See Psalm 139:13-14:

“For you created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful,
I know that full well.”

Physical beauty is not to be the sole criterion of one’s attraction to the opposite sex, and it can lead to vain self absorption with one’s appearance. For a believer in Christ, though, this does not lead to vanity as long as it is a sign of respect for oneself as God’s creation, and as long as it does not lead to begrudging or demeaning any other woman in regard to her looks. The cautions of the Old and New Testaments about judging inward character from outward appearance and pursuing outward appearance at the expense of inward character were never intended as a warning against all outward adornment and physical enhancement.

Lover: 2:2: Solomon takes up and expands her playful self description as he describes her as a lily among thorns in comparison to the other women. For Solomon himself, this could be the expression of his preference for her above all the other women in his harem; among political and other marriages, apparently this was a marriage of love.

  • The principle of total commitment above all others

Whatever past or present rivals, the spouse needs and should be given reassurance of the total commitment of his or her partner till the end.

“Love never fails” (I Corinthians 13:8).

Does your wife know that you prefer and are committed to her passionately, completely and utterly above all the other women in your life that you may encounter? Have you told her something to the effect that no one else has a hold on you like her? What kinds of actions can you do to demonstrate this, to give her a deepening sense of security that she and no one else has
your love now? This is especially necessary, for both husbands and wives, where there may have been some sort of past rivals for the love of the spouse. This means offering reassurance where the spouse has definite knowledge about past rivals (never dredge anything unnecessarily from the past).

Beloved: 2:3-13: the Shulammite’s  first soliloquy: vv. 3-7: the bride’s description of their lovemaking: she echoes her preference and commitment to him above all rivals. She further declares her enjoyment of his presence and love. In their bedroom (the banquet hall for their feast of love) the banner (the metaphor drawn from the tribal standards over the camp of each tribe) is love; the reason that he has led her to the place of intimacy to come together is love. Her passion for her husband is so intense that it drains her energy (apples were believed to be an aphrodisiac in the ancient world). The description of his embrace in verse 6, then, seems to describe their sexual embrace. She then concludes with a verse that will be a repeated refrain in 3:5 and 8:4.  Her charge to the other women in verse 7 seems to be for them to allow marital and romantic love to awaken and arouse itself naturally, through a process of mutual attraction and affection.

  • The principle of feminine passion: a woman of God can be passionate for her husband within the will of God.

1. Feminine passion: Does your husband know that you likewise prefer him, being with him and his love, to that of any other man? Are you secure in knowing that the reason that he brings you into your bedroom is love? Does your passion for your husband at times seem to leave you weak and drained (but happy)?

2. Feminine attraction and affection: Do you demonstrate the joy of mutual attraction and affection, rather than demanded or manipulated expressions of affection? Often immaturity will lead a person to expect an instant response to one’s overtures of love, rather than waiting for the partner to understand and respond.

See Ecclesiastes 7:26 for the picture of the manipulative woman and her repulsion to a godly man:
“I find more bitter than death
the woman who is a snare,
whose heart is a trap,
and whose hands are chains.
The man who pleases God will escape her,
but the sinner she will ensnare.”

vv. 8-13: the wife the recounts the invitation of the husband as he came to seek and win her love. His enthusiasm is like that of the male deer or gazelle in the rutting season. The song seems to picture her in a garden courtyard of the palace women’s quarters, and he comes eagerly to invite her to a time of intimacy. He calls her by pet names, and tells her in effect, “Spring is in the air, and it is the time for our love also.”

  • The principle of romantic invitation

The initiative for love is not a demand for self satisfaction, but a gracious, tactful, enthusiastic and playful invitation for mutual satisfaction.

Husbands: note the gracious and enthusiastic invitation that Solomon brought to his bride. A real man need not fear to wax poetic in his passion for his woman, since he is secure enough in his manhood to speak to her at her level, in a way that pleases her, and not to make his sexual overtures a matter of macho posturing.

Wives:  how do you respond when your husband takes the time and puts in the effort to be truly romantic with you? Do you find his enthusiasm and passion for you exhilarating and encouraging?

Lover: 2:14-15: this is probably a continuation of Solomon’s invitation which began in verse 10, rather than a separate speech interrupting the bride’ s soliloquy, which would then continue to 3:11.  Note that verse 15 continues the mention of the blossoming vineyards which began in verse 13.

Apparently the first reaction of the bride is shy and coy, and she hides her (blushing?) face from him and gives no answer to his first invitation. He speaks of her voice and her face — the aspects of her person open to public view. It is not until they are together in the privacy of their bedroom that he begins to describe and compliment other aspects of her person. Verse 15 is admittedly difficult to interpret. The little foxes (the common red fox, not the jackal, which this word can also mean) eat grapes (remember the fable of the fox and the “sour” grapes?), and so they can spoil in one night a vineyard over which one has long labored. So perhaps this verse is saying, “If there are any little problems on your mind that might hinder our time of intimacy, let’s catch them and take care of them right away, rather than lose the enjoyment of a marriage and intimacy on which we have spent so much time and effort.”

  • The principle of constructive dealing with distractions and difficulties

“[Love] is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs” (I Corinthians 13:5).

Husbands: perhaps your wife is shy and coy when you begin your sexual and romantic overtures; do you have a playful, tactful and gentle manner of drawing her out? Are you ready to deal with the things on her mind that may seem trivial or little to you,  but important to her, before you begin a time of intimacy? In other words, are you willing to go to the bedroom after a heart to heart conversation and time of prayer for your concerns first?

Beloved: 2:16-17: verse 16 is an expression that will be repeated as a refrain in 6:3. It refers apparently to their one-flesh relationship and her perception and pleasure in his enjoyment of her. This is one of the wonderful aspects of their love, that they take pleasure in pleasing each other as much, if not more, than pleasing themselves.

  • The principle of romantic and sexual mutuality

The intention in Biblical marital love is to satisfy the partner as much as oneself.

“[Love] is not self seeking” (I Corinthians 13:5).

“The husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband. The wife’s body does not belong to her alone, but also to her husband. In the same way, the husband’s body does not belong to him along, but also to his wife” (I Corinthians 7:3-4).

1. With what objective do you go into your times of sexual intimacy with your spouse? Do you go to please only yourself, or do you go to provide your spouse with the highest sexual enjoyment you can give him or her?

2. How do you respond to your spouse when he or she is seeking intimacy but you may not be immediately ready for such a time? Do you seek to respond and “get in the mood”?

All scripture references taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION, copyright 1973, 1978 by the International Bible Society and used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.

The Song of Solomon: the Psalm of Married Love: Part II: The Blessing of Right Choices

CHAPTER 1

Beloved: 1:2-4: The bride expresses her desire for the love of her husband, as it is physically expressed to her (chambers is the term for bedroom). She finds his presence and love enjoyable, and the admiration of other women for him not a threat to her relationship but the confirmation of the desirability of her husband.

  • The principle of enjoyment of the spouse:

The example of the Shulammite shows that the woman of God is in the will of God in being passionate for her husband and enjoying the love of her husband.

Contrast the Misery of Counterfeit Love!

(Source: the oral teaching of Barbara Cook: expanded in her book, Love and Its Counterfeits)

These are the characteristics of counterfeit love. It is the type of infatuation and wrong direction that involve women in destructive and immoral relationships with men. Contrast these with the enjoyment of the spouse throughout the Song of Songs.

  • You have given another person power over your emotions.
  • You have given away control of your identity to another person.
  • You have violated your moral standards and beliefs.
  • You have assisted another person in the continuance of a destructive behavior by allowing that person to escape the destructive consequences of that behavior.
  • You have been victimized, manipulated or used.
  • You have submitted to treatment that makes you feel worthless, treatment that ignores your God-given human value and right to respect.
  • You have been refusing to take a serious look at reality.
  • You have repeatedly endangered your physical health and safety and endangered your life.

It is important for a husband to know that he pleases his wife, and that she wants him because she finds him desirable (not because she is “stuck with him,” or because “no one else would have him”). Love is based upon choice, and although you may be certain that he made the best choice in choosing you, your husband needs to know that you believe that you made the right choice in choosing him in return.

1. Let  your husband hear you express for him how you enjoy his expression of love to you and how you enjoy being with him.

2. Express to him that he is a desirable man, and that you made the right choice when you married him. If you do not feel that you did so, consider your relationship in the light of Romans 8:28-30. Wrong choices in entering marriage can become right ones in the bond of marriage.

3. For those not yet married, do not be satisfied with someone with whom you are not in spiritual and moral harmony in following Christ, and for whom you do not have admiration as a person and passion as someone of the opposite sex.

Friends: 1:4b: the friends of the bride express their approval of the husband and his romantic expression toward his wife. The identity of these friends is not always clear throughout the Song of Songs. Perhaps they were the young women of Jerusalem who had befriended the bride of Solomon. They might not have been other women of the harem but other women of the household: the sisters and nieces of Solomon as well as other young women of the Israelite/Jerusalem court.

  • The principle of positive support from friends for a good and sound married life, especially from others in the body of Christ

This is the reflection of the true love of Christ in them: “Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth” (I Corinthians 13:6).

Each wife should choose close friends who also admire her husband, and avoid those who denigrate him. This includes approval of their romantic side of their marital relationship.

1. Determine, moreover, to speak highly of your husband to other women, and to avoid discussion of anything that annoys you about him with others.

2. Moreover, have friends who speak positively of your husband in particular and who avoid denigrating men in general. Sometimes women’s conversations turn into the sharing of complaints about husbands, even of grumbles of lack of romantic fulfillment.

3. Therefore, if you find your desire for your husband lacking, consider whether you  have been accepting denigrating evaluations from others about him, or passing them on in conversations with other women.

Beloved: 1:4c-7: Though the women of Jerusalem have befriended Solomon’s new bride, they stare at her, perhaps wondering what it was that Solomon saw in her. She then gives her response. Apparently her marriage to Solomon was something of a “Cinderella story.”

The Shulammite then corroborates her friends’ approval of her husband, and explains her kind of physical beauty. She is still such a new bride that her tan from her premarital life and family/vocational responsibility has not faded. (Tents of Kedar: the Bedouin tents made of black goat hair).Her tan means that she does not measure up to the cultural standard of white skin for feminine beauty, but it is the mark that she has been a working woman and not an idle woman who could feed her own vanity. She is separated from her husband who is at present fulfilling his responsibilities as king (shepherd was a metaphor for kings, and speaking of him as grazing his flocks and resting them  would be a natural extension of that metaphor to his leadership responsibilities as king). She is wearing her wedding veil, and playfully wonders why he should prefer to be where he is rather than with her. The Hebrew of verse 7 is more definite than “you whom I love”: rather, it is “you whom my soul loves.” The addition of “my soul” indicates that this is more than a physical attraction but a regard for the total person and a response from the total person.

  • The principle of the longing for each other’s presence

“[Love] always hopes” (I Corinthians 13:7).

1. Let your husband know that you anticipate eagerly his return home from work every day. What steps can you take to express this? Could you take a few minutes to spruce yourself up before his return if you need to?

2.  What do you do to make being home with you more enjoyable than being at work?

Friends: 1:8: her friends playfully suggest that she go to his place of responsibility and make an appearance to satisfy her curiosity.
The principle of positive advice from friends

Seek friends who encourage you to take an active interest in your husband and who approve the romantic side of your relationship. If there is visible envy or undue embarrassment at a loving marriage, avoid their advice, especially if there are attempts to pass on unscriptural inhibitions and hang-ups to you.

“Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen” (Ephesians 4:29).

Lover: 1:9-10: the husband speaks; apparently she has just arrived from the judgment hall of the palace from the women’s quarters (the harem), where she has gone to seek him. He calls her by a name of endearment (darling), and admires her beauty immediately by an apparently flattering and witty metaphor. The mare among (not harnessed to) Pharaoh’s chariots would naturally be exciting to the war stallions who normally drew the chariots. Apparently this is a way to describe the exciting effect upon the court the appearance of his bride has upon all.

Next, Solomon notices her jewelry, and thinks of more that he would like to see her wear. Notice that when he speaks to her, she has his entire attention even in that place of great distraction and responsibility.

  • The principle of full and immediate attention to the partner

One of the key things for a man to learn in communication with a woman is to give her his undivided attention. This is a part of the expression of the love of Christ to her, since,“[Love] is not rude . . .” (I Corinthians 13:5).

1. Give your wife have your full and immediate attention when you return from work, as soon as you can, and when you speak to her when you are together in public. If she has taken special effort to make herself presentable to you,  notice and compliment her.

2. Do you call her by endearing names?

3. Do you notice if she changes her hair style or anything else in her appearance to make herself more attractive to you? Do you compliment her taste in clothes and jewelry? Is there ever anything that you buy for her or take a special effort to show her because you “would like to see her in it”?

4. For men contemplating marriage: learning how to communicate is part of learning to “push the right buttons.” Learning how to listen and give your attention to a woman who is a marital prospect is one of the most genuine demonstrations of love that you can give. Practice this with the women in general that you meet so that you can give it entirely to the one woman in particular who will be your own.

Beloved: 1:12-14: apparently they have entered the bed chamber and are together on the bed (the bedroom is called the banquet hall in 2:4 and the table the bed for their “feast of love” as their time of romantic and sexual indulgence shall be described elsewhere throughout the Song). The metaphors delicately describe her responses to him without being overly graphic. En Gedi was an oasis on the shore of the Dead Sea.

The principle of privacy: this is necessary within the limits of good sense and consideration toward others, as well as the spouse. “[Love] always protects” (I Corinthians 13:7).

Lover: 1:15: he begins his admiration of her beauty with her eyes. One can imagine them sitting on the side of the bed or lying beside each other on the bed and gazing into each other’s eyes as he speaks. Although he will soon describe his admiration of all his wife’s physical features in detail, he begins modestly, to build up gradually to his admiration of her body (one of the most appealing creations of God to him).

  • The principle of expressing admiration

FLATTERY IS INSINCERE, BUT A GENUINE COMPLIMENT SHOWS GENUINE LOVE. (It is interesting that Proverbs, also from Solomon, has so much to say about true and false praise of another person, whether in or out of the marital relationship.)

Charlie W. Shedd, Letters to Philip, p. 31: “IF YOU LIKE IT, SAY SO!”

1. Part of the admiration of a woman’s beauty involves describing what you find appealing, and longing, loving gazes into each other’s eyes. Do you spend time looking lovingly into your wife’s eyes? Do you describe what you find appealing about her? Can you start with her face?

2. For men preparing for marriage: learn how to give genuine, tactful, tasteful compliments.

Beloved: 1:16: she echoes his admiration of her with her admiration of him. She then describes their bed as verdant (Hebrew green). This is probably not a reference to an actual color but a use which means rather fresh.  Not only did they admire each other, but the bedroom and the bed itself was an inviting place for them.

  • The principle of response

Do you echo back your admiration of your husband when he compliments you, or do you accept it in silence or with courteous thanks? If he speaks to you courteously and romantically, do you express your enjoyment of his verbal lovemaking?

  • The principle of the inviting love nest

Compared to the security and morality of marital sexuality, premarital and extramarital sexuality runs a poor second. What excitement there often comes from the sexual risk taking, the sexual competition, the sexual conquest and the sexual exploitation. What is described here is what is missed in premarital, extramarital sexuality: a safe haven for mutual enjoyment and satisfaction.

Lover: 1:17: the husband remarks on their bedchamber. Apparently he had spent some time and expense to make it a special and private place for their intimate moments.

1. For married men: One place not to skimp on expenses is the bedroom, to make it a private and inviting place. Have you invested in good quality furniture, bedding, etc.? Have you taken the steps to insure your privacy, i.e., a lock on the door (especially if there are small children in the family), curtains, etc.?

2. For unmarried men: privacy is part of intimacy. Security is important to long-term intimacy. Learn and work to be able to provide both.

Reading assignment: Read through the Song of Solomon in a translation different from that which you normally read.

All scripture references taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION, copyright 1973, 1978 by the International Bible Society and used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.