God’s Take on Dirty Fighting and Underhanded Tactics

The Old Testament has many passages which are difficult for many in contemporary congregations to understand. Many do not go much into the Old Testament in their personal reading, and thus do not get the wealth of what the Old Testament, the Bible of Jesus and the apostles, has to say about the God of the Bible and his ways.

Some of the most difficult passages may take place in the civil regulations of the Pentateuch. Here is one such passage: “If two men are fighting and the wife of of them comes to rescue her husband from his assailant, and she reaches out and seizes him by his private parts, you shall cut off her hand. Show her no pity” (Deuteronomy 25:11-12).

This passage may seem to be senseless for someone reading it now, but through the Holy Spirit God inspired these passages as much as the passages that someone may gush over in public in the currently fashionable cliché, “I LOVE this verse.” This passage might have offended Victorian modesty if it had been preached over a hundred years ago, but that’s hardly a problem for congregations nowadays. It seems harsh by modern standards of justice, and it might play into some false idea, played upon both in liberal churches and by Gnostics in the past, that the God of the Old Testament was somehow harsher, more unreasonable and somehow different than the way that God was revealed to be in the New Testament by Jesus Christ.

There are some guidelines from scripture itself on how to look at these passages. First, much of the civil law of Israel was in fact an expansion on the Ten Commandments, as some modern preachers and teachers do recognize. This passage, though, does not seem to be one of these. Second, the comparison of the civil law of Israel with the laws of other nations shows that pretty much always the civil penalties are not nearly as harsh and often the civil regulations command compassion. Moreover, it’s reasonable to understand, as many rabbis claimed, that the penalties which seemed to prescribe mutilation were in fact civil fines of a set value, such as a set value for loss of an eye. In this way the penalties would resemble modern tort law, with a certain set financial liability for harming another person. It’s reasonable to see the penalty in this passage in this manner, although the way in which it was worded would have a strong deterrent effect. The complete absence of known mutilations for crimes in the Old Testament does seem to point to these laws not having been enforced with actual mutilation and perhaps not having had to have been enforced much at all.

This law is an example of what appears to be ‘case law,’ and God seems to use these to teach wider principles than the exact circumstances of the particular statutes. There is in fact scriptural guidance for this, in scripture interpreting scripture, in the path of progressive revelation. The apostle Paul, in I Corinthians 9:9, takes the law about not muzzling the threshing ox as meaning much more, as pointing to a greater principle, which he applied to a New Testament apostle having the privilege of being supported by churches for full time ministry. Moreover, in I Timothy 1:8-11 he cites the civil penalties of the Old Testament Law as demonstrating what punishments are due to different kinds of sinful acts. So, the principle that this passage seems to point to seems to be to some lines that are not to be crossed in personal disputes, and that God takes a personal interest when these lines are crossed.

The first thing to consider is the situation which gives rise to the regulation. Two men have come to a fist fight over something. This could have been over possession of a lamb or a goat, a boundary stone, an agreement or even an insult or remark which was taken the wrong way. It’s much likely not to be a fight to injury or to the death; Exodus 21:18-19 prescribed that the one who dealt a disabling blow to the other would have to pay a penalty, and a fight to the death could have come under murder law, and the best result for the one who survived would have been to spend years in an Israelite city of refuge far from his home and family. It might even have been a sanctioned physical contest to decide the winner in a dispute, since these were not unknown in the ancient world, just as they are not unknown in the modern world. It may in fact be referring to a fight under definite rules, such as the staged fight between John Wayne and Victor McLaghlen in the movie The Quiet Man, which was characterized as a private fight under the Marquis of Queensbury rules. Many times these kinds of fights led to the participants settling their differences and becoming fast friends, as happened in the movie. The setting would have been the multitude of Israelites in the Exodus, or in their villages and farms after they had settled in the Promised Land.

So, in the midst of this physical contest, the wife of one of the men attempts to intervene. This does not look from the passage to be a blow intended to incapacitate but to hold or even to mutilate the man fighting against her husband.  It would be considered to be dirty and unfair fighting even today. If the fight were over property or the wife feared the defeat of her husband, she might have been tempted to some kind of intervention like this. But I don’t think that we’ve come yet as to why God put this incident under a severe civil penalty. Again, it’s hard to say whether this law ever had to be enforced, and the most likely case would have been a wife intervening for her husband, but this statute would have sufficed as precedent to decide the penalty if there was ever an intervention in the same way against a fight which involved a woman’s father, uncle, or brother. It may even have been a known tactic in ancient disputes settled by fighting that some women would attempt to have the contest decided in favor of their husbands. This passage would then be not a sanction of violence but a restraint upon something particularly offensive to God that may have been taking place already. And this is also how many of the case laws in the Old Testament do apply and how they may serve as a guide to what God finds offensive.

The tactic that this wife would have chosen struck directly at the manhood of the other man. It could have led to his being unable to father children or a physical defect sufficient for exclusion from the assembly of the Lord, as in Deuteronomy 23:1 (although that may rather refer to deliberate emasculation or castration of an Israelite for pagan cultic reasons). It would have represented an attempt to win at an expense to the other person which God would not allow to go uncorrected and unpunished. In the civil laws God allowed physical punishment but not humiliation to the point of utter degradation of the other person (Deuteronomy 25:3), and took murder personally as an attack against the image of God which was in mankind by creation (Genesis 9:5-6). Here, by analogy, it could also be taken as an attack of female against male and against the created order of male and female (Genesis 1:27).

So then, what’s the significance of this? Well, to dispose of the most obvious understanding, I don’t think that it would forbid a temporarily disabling blow against the crotch in self defense if a man or woman’s life is in danger, since these disable by pain and are not aimed to mutilate or permanently harm the assailant. I have some memories of several such blows delivered against myself by sneaky and unscrupulous fighters in junior high, and the blows temporarily disable by the pain but normally do not cause long term disability – but I would still counsel parents and teachers to deal strong discipline against any child or teenager that would ever try to deal such a blow, which is, in legal terms, assault, against another person in the course of teasing, taunting or any other kind of childish interaction. But even more, I think that this sets a principle that is well to repeat, that God has and will pronounce his judgments against those who use any and every tactic to win, and who would strike against the humanity, manhood, or womanhood, in an effort to gain an unfair advantage and to win a disagreement, an argument or a dispute. This would put this passage clearly in the context of creation, of progressive revelation and under the principle of scripture interpreting scripture, and it would furnish an illustration of the kinds of things that we human beings might do that offend God deeply. So, does this passage speak more clearly now?

So, does this happen nowadays? I don’t think that it’s impossible that the literal event might happen nowadays if there was to be a fight in the parking lot of a restaurant or bar nowadays, but I don’t think that that the civil law of Israel would apply in that case, but rather, the civil law of the locality. Rather, the application of this passage to present conduct would be to examine our ways and understand the ways in which those in our culture and we who claim to be followers of Christ and who regularly attend our churches might attack the manhood or womanhood of others and use underhanded tactics to win disputes, fights and disagreements which may well be petty and superficial. It would be to understand that God understands our humanity and that we will disagree and fight with each other, maybe not physically, and that there are tactics in personal disputes which God finds most offensive and worthy of his special mention and harsh penalty.

So, in the course of personal disputes, do men and women in our culture try to strike out at the manhood or womanhood of another man or woman in an attempt to cripple or incapacitate that person and get an unfair advantage to win in a situation? Definitely – but they use words rather than physical blows. That is actually the point of many of the insinuations of homosexuality or lesbianism that some people in our culture dish out against others – sometimes against single or divorced men and women who love Christ with all their hearts and who are seeking to follow him in all that they do. The rapper Eminem, who actually dishes out a lot of the anti-gay rhetoric nowadays, admitted as much in an interview with MTV once that that was his tactic to attack the manhood of another man whom he saw himself in some sort of conflict. It is also what happens when someone insinuates against another person that he or she isn’t a ‘real’ man or woman – a demanding parent or coach, for example. So, I think that we may look at this Old Testament regulation and easily see ourselves there, as saying and doing the same kind of things that God finds reprehensible.

I don’t think that we can see it in the light of the justice and compassion of the God of scripture that he takes it in any other way than extremely seriously when one of the men or women he has created attacks the humanity, manhood or womanhood of another man or woman not only with acts of physical violence but also with malicious words. Could such words crush and humiliate a person? Definitely. Could such words form a barrier to a person’s finding love and marriage in the will of God? Possibly. But these kinds of insinuations do happen in Christian circles and break hearts unnecessarily in many cases – because someone thought that he or she could use this tactic to try to enhance his or her reputation at someone else’s expense or to undermine, incapacitate or destroy a perceived rival.

But even more, I think that this passage demonstrates an underlying principle that warns against a win-at-all-costs (to another person) or a protect-what’s-mine-at-all-costs (to another person) mentality. Is that around today? Definitely! How many proud, stubborn and self sufficient people are there who approach personal relationships with a ‘Heads I win, tails you lose’ mentality, and will say or do anything to ‘win’ and not to ‘lose’ in a situation’? It would be extremely naive and dismissive to deny that there are those around like that today, and some of them call themselves Christians, and may even be in positions within churches and denominations.

That there are some things a person simply does not do in a disagreement, dispute or conflict to gain an unfair advantage without coming under the extreme displeasure of God would seem obvious to anyone who has come to know the God of the Bible, but, with the Biblical illiteracy and superficial discipleship of many in our churches, many never seem to have looked at their personal conduct and relationships with others very deeply in the light of scripture, and the ways of the God of the Bible. Even more, it’s hard to say if there has been a time than now since before the Reformation when evangelicals have been so unaware of their personal responsibility before Jesus Christ and the fact that they will face him one day in person to give account for their lives, for everything that they have ever thought, said and done. “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad” (II Corinthians 5:10). So then, what someone says or does now to ‘win’ in a situation may in fact be something for which Jesus Christ will call that person to account before the whole universe, and for which that person may suffer loss in eternity.

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Bureaucrats and Solomon’s Last Rant

“If you see the poor oppressed in a district, and justice and rights denied, do not be surprised at such things; for one official is eyed by a higher one, and over them both are others still higher. The increase from the land is taken by all; the king himself profits from the fields” (Ecclesiastes 5:8-9).

One of the biggest arguments against any kind of idealization of government redistribution of incomes is the Old Testament itself and the writings of the prophets such as Isaiah and Micah in particular. It should be noticeable that while the prophets do decry wealth, the wealth that they decry is not all wealth, but wealth from illegitimate means – wealth taken from others through fraud and oppression – in other words, ill gotten gain. And they definitely do have no illusions about the integrity of government officials in their own time.

Solomon himself included a terse and apt description of this in the book of the Bible that might be entitled, “Solomon’s Last Rant.” The passage in Ecclesiastes above is the general experience of the middle and lower classes under the empire states of the ancient Near East. The empires of the Egyptians, Assyrians, Babylonians and Persians, as the later empires of the Macedonians and the Romans, exacted taxes, tolls and tributes through a series of officials that went all the way up to the supreme ruler – the king or emperor. The tremendous sums that were exacted came from the taxation of the subject peoples. For Israelites, this would have meant additional levies beyond the tithe that they normally gave to the support of the Temple, the priests and the Levites. Depending on the honesty and rapacity of the officials of the empire, these taxes could be quite onerous, and result in a tremendous transfer of wealth from the small farmers, artisans and merchants that were a large part of the peoples in an ancient empire-state.

This is something that is definitely mentioned in Biblical accounts: that poverty can result from government oppression, and especially, a corrupt government where the officials exact their cuts from the productivity of the population. The corruptibility of government officials, due to the corruptibility of their human nature, should be a definite caution to any Bible believing Christian that would see governmental redistribution as a solution to human need and poverty. That governmental officials might find the money that they exact in the course of their office something that they would skim off for their own advantage rather than something that they might use for the good of the population should not be something that Christians find either astonishing or even improbable.

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.