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.

Advertisements

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.

The Song of Solomon: the Psalm of Married Love: Part I: Introduction to the Song of Songs

The Authorship and Inspiration of the Song of Solomon

The traditional author of the Song of Solomon is Solomon, the son of David, the king of Israel. There is no reason to doubt that assessment, from the title of the song (1:1), the allusions to Solomon throughout, and the attested abilities of Solomon as a songwriter (I Kings 4:32).

The Song of Songs is the scriptural celebration of married love. It is a depiction of the king and his favorite wife revelling in their married love, and thus it demonstrates the fulfillment of God’s will and God’s pleasure in the romantic enjoyment and sexual satisfaction in marriage.

The Song of Songs is included in the Bible by the design of God himself through the Holy Spirit. As scripture, the  Song of Songs is ” . . . inspired by God and useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (II Timothy 3:16-17).

Reading and Understanding the Song of Solomon for yourself:

The Song of Solomon is difficult at places to translate because of its unique vocabulary and obscure references. Be sure to read it in a variety of translations, but especially in a translation such as the New International Version, because the marginal titles tell who is speaking at each place throughout the Song. English cannot reproduce the gender differences in the Hebrew that tell when the speaker is male, female or a group of females.

Another point in translation is the use of the familiar second person rather than the formal second person throughout the Song of Songs (like French tu instead of the more formal vous, or the German du instead of Sie). In English this nuance would come more through an intimate tone of voice rather than the use of special words.

Remember as you read the Song of Songs that it is highly figurative and imaginative. Many errors of interpretation have arisen because of ignorance of this fact. It is also witty, humorous and playful. Thus, be very careful of taking it literally in some places, where it goes into imagination and fantasy.

In times of an overly modest or ascetic treatment of sex in the church, it has been interpreted as allegorical or typological of the love of God and Israel or of Christ and the church. This came because of a view even of marital sex as dirty or “unspiritual.” It can be seen as an illustration of the love of Christ for the church in places, but the allegorical or typological interpretations are in conflict with generally accepted rules of scriptural interpretation. It should be noted here that the New Testament itself does not make this Christological connection (the Song of Songs is not even clearly quoted in the New Testament), though there were several places where Paul could have done so.

Another interesting but unconvincing interpretation sees a love triangle with the Shulammite maiden, her shepherd lover, and a lecherous King Solomon who attempts to seduce her away from her lover. This would make it a sort of Hebrew version of Wuthering Heights, or other nineteenth century romantic novel. (It is interesting that this hypothesis arose in that time.) This idea is also found in some evangelical commentaries. But the flaws to that idea are these:

1. The difficulties of separating the shepherd and Solomon make the “Shepherd hypothesis” anything but obvious.

2. The maiden is quite clearly married to Solomon in a legitimate ceremony, so that one way or another there would be some kind of sexual immorality in the pursuit of this interpretation, which would put it in conflict with the rest of scripture.

The application of the Song of Solomon:

1. What the song contradicts:

Though the main characters are a king and his favorite wife in a polygamous situation,  and the setting is a palace, their words and actions are applicable to a normal, monogamous one flesh married relationship. Indeed, it can almost be said that the Song represents the intrinsic,God given desire for this type of relationship among those who find themselves in different situations.
It may not be too much to say that this depicts the real marriage that represented most God’s ideal among the political and other types of marriages in which Solomon found himself as king.

A. Therefore the Song is a divinely inspired guide out of sexual and marital confusion. A realistic and modest treatment of the Song of Songs could furnish a guide even for adolescents to model their expectations for their marital future, and for those from broken families and marriages and for those who have had premarital sexual or homosexual experiences to develop an image of God’s ideal. Solomon’s creation of a real marriage within many marriages gives a scriptural guide away from sinful pasts and family examples.

B. Moreover, the Song of Songs contradicts the naturalistic and physiological approach to marital sexuality characteristic of the past century. For example, note that Dr. David Reuben’s book, Everything that You Always Wanted to Know about Sex (But Were Afraid to Ask) is primarily about anatomy, as are many other marital and sexual guides, even those written from an evangelical perspective. Likewise, Desmond Morris’s The Naked Ape approaches human sexuality from a fanatically evolutionary perspective and presents it as a development of simian [ape] sexuality. (Because of this, the quotations of Desmond Morris by some evangelical psychological and educational teachers should be viewed with caution.) The Song of Songs contradicts the modern tendency to see sexual satisfaction in marriage as the result of knowing how the body works.

2. What the song teaches:

A. About marriage in general:

The song is teaching about marriage by example more than precept. It is Solomon backing his teaching on marriage in Proverbs with his own example. Here he is not telling us, “Do as I say,” as he does in Proverbs, but “Do as I do.”  It is Solomon showing us the gleam in his eye.

Not only that, the Song also presents a female counterpart to the King, and describes her desires and emotions just as intimately as his. This demonstrates the radical idea for much of the ancient world (and the modern world until the past generation) that a woman should enjoy the sexual side of marriage as much as a man would be supposed to enjoy it. The Shulammite teaches by example, not by being the author, but by contributing her perspective.

The basic question for application of the Song of Solomon is the same as with any other book in scripture. Though the teaching is by example, the believer in Christ can consider this book to be the revelation of God’s will for his or her life. The question is: What does the Song of Solomon tell me about the person that  God wants me to be in my marriage (whether actual or potential)? The Song of Songs is a guide on how to be a man or woman of God within the confines of marriage.

B. To single people preparing for marriage:

The Christian single person who is dedicated to Jesus Christ and filled with the Holy Spirit is nevertheless not in a state of sexual and marital innocence and ignorance, but rather sexual self control through the Spirit in faithfulness to Jesus Christ. His or her sexuality remains under the supernatural power and control of God. Because he (or she) is under the mastery of Jesus Christ, the Christian single literally has the best of both worlds in regard to marriage and sex. Nothing eternally worthwhile is lost if the sexually faithful Christian single dies before marriage; nothing worthwhile on earth is lost because the Christian single waits until marriage.

The Christian single can therefore find guidance in the Song of Solomon to the fulfillment of his or her sexual potential in marriage. The Christian single can expect to find sexual enjoyment in marriage without being in lust. The Christian single can, moreover, shape his or her expectations and goals for a potential marriage without being in sinful sexual fantasies. Moreover, the Christian single can find guidance within the Song of Solomon on how to behave tenderly and lovingly towards the opposite sex.

A Christian father could have a study of the Song of Solomon with his adolescent son or a Christian mother with her daughter as part of a suitable preparation for marriage. God’s own Word should be a better guide than anything else in this world.

B. To married people:

The principle used in the application of other Biblical texts dealing with marriage apply here also. God’s Word deals with marital responsibilities for each partner. Each partner needs to consider his or her own marital performance in the light of the Word of God before considering the performance of his or her spouse.  Thus these examples were meant to be followed personally first and not to become the basis of demands for one’s partner. Thus even the Christian woman married to a unbelieving man can also derive benefit from it by seeking to be the Shulammite in her own marriage. The goal is not to seek to make another person into what God wants but to make oneself that person first and foremost.

Ask yourself:

  • How can I learn to treat my spouse lovingly and considerately as in the Song of Solomon?
  • What does this teach me about the opposite sex? Does it overthrow some wrong ideas or false generalizations that I received from somewhere?
  • What would be my reaction if my spouse were to begin to treat me in a manner consistent with the Song of Songs? Should I have a reaction different from that which I have had before?

Note that the husband tends to be the initiator of love and the wife the responder throughout the Song of Songs. He comes to woo, win, and initiate the times of intimacy; she responds joyfully and passionately. Many men will find the romantic and sexual side of their marriage declining because they never learned or refuse to become the initiator as often as it takes. Many women sabotage the romantic and sexual side of their marriage because of their unwillingness to be the joyful responder.  Again, the Song of Songs comes as God’s guide to avoid this self sabotage and learn to give and receive enjoyment within the bonds of marriage.

Assignment: read through the Song of Solomon this week in the translation which you normally read. Read also I Corinthians 13. One of the aspects of the coming weeks will be to show how following the example of Solomon and the Shulammite is in total consistency with Biblical love.

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.