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).

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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 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.