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Passage: Song of Songs 1-8

On Monday, August 5, 2013, Yujin wrote,

May he kiss me with the kisses of his mouth!
For your love is better than wine (Song of Solomon 1:1-3).

Here begins the song that depicts the passionately loving relationship between Solomon and his Shulammite bride. While much of Scripture emphasizes platonic love, physical love is depicted here. There is one major caveat. Such passionate love is to be reserved for one's own spouse. Thus, Solomon writes in the Proverbs,

May your fountain be blessed,
    and may you rejoice in the wife of your youth.
A loving doe, a graceful deer—
    may her breasts satisfy you always,
    may you ever be intoxicated with her love (Proverbs 5:18-19).

While this is a wish, it is also accompanied by a command:

Drink water from your own cistern,
    running water from your own well (Proverbs 5:15).

When you read the whole context of Proverbs 5 it becomes clear that Solomon is not talking here of well water but of reserving sexual relations to one's own wife.

Of all that is meaningless in life this side of heaven, the enjoyment of your wife is extolled as a virtue in the midst of all the vanity:

Enjoy life with your wife, whom you love, all the days of this meaningless life that God has given you under the sun—all your meaningless days (Ecclesiastes 9:9). 

Friends, however we might interpret the Song of Songs, we can be assured of this much: the Bible clearly affirms passionate love within the context of marriage. Unfortunately, this world has twisted the beauty and poisoned the purity of passionate expressions of love, so that passion is separated from love, causing the sexual act to lose connection with the purity and goodness of a right relationship and motivation that give the act meaning and beauty. Consequently, the act becomes meaningless, ugly and destructive, like the drug that was designed to heal but instead destroys because it is taken without the guidelines of a prescription. 

Many people, experiencing this estrangement of love and passion, commit sexual immorality, adultery, and divorce. 

Friends, I encourage you to use this reading of the Song of Songs to rekindle your passionate love for your spouse. Yes, Solomon was a king and the Shulammite a beautiful commoner, but perhaps God chose this picture of marital passion so that we might treat each other as kings and queens and see each other as eminently handsome and beautiful. He could have very well given us a picture of such love between two ugly commoners, but we are given this match to help us understand that the focus of these two lovers was not on their position or their looks, for it is clear from their dialogue that in spite of their shortcomings, they were infatuated with each other and only had eyes for each other.

Now friends, I wonder, has your love turned cold or your passion become dry and you're at a loss as to what to do? Do we not suffer a similar state in our bodies when we don't eat right and exercise. Isn't this the same state of our souls when we are not daily in God's Word and prayer? Isn't this the state of our families when we don't invest time and attention to our children? What about our financial situation? Don't we face this when we are not responsible and wise in managing our money?

But I don't present these questions to discourage you but to encourage you. Passionate love within our marriages may be just like these other thngs. It takes work. It's hard and perhaps frustrating and even painful at the start, but as in every other discipline, "those who have been trained by it, it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness" (Hebrews 12:11).

If we work at it, we can heal and rekindle passionate love within our marrages. Are there some keys to this in Scripture? I think there are. Certainly, the Song of Songs provides a good resource, even teaching us how to focus on the positives in our spouse, even to obsess over them, celebrate them, and tell them to others.

But there is more. I would encourage you to meditate on Epesians 5:21-33, which speaks of wives and husbands and their privileged obligations to one another. At this point, I want to just focus my comments on husbands:

In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church— (Ephesians 5:28-29).

I want to key in on one particular point, which is not often emphasized. I highlighted it in the citation above: "Husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies." What does this mean? How do you love your own body? With but rare exception, don't we all want to look and feel good. We like to enjoy our favorite foods, but we also try to eat right so that we can still look good and stay healthy. Some of us are into gadgets, sports, etc., but that's because that's how our brains are wired. What if our brains were wired instead for nice clothing and fine dining, etc.? We would respond in kind.

I believe this verse provided the inspiration for Gary Chapman's best-selling book The Five Love Languages. I don't know about reducing everything to simply five ideas, but it gets us to start thinking about what our wives' need, desire and enjoy. If we love them as our own bodies, we recognize that our bodies have both needs and wants, and so do our spouses.

The Bible teaches us,

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others (Philippians 2:3-4).

Should we not begin this kind of selfless, others-valuing ministry with our own wives? While these commands are given for all believers, they are reinforced by the command to husbands to love their wives as their own bodies. 

Brothers, I don't think many of us have done enough or realize the magnitude of our responsibilities to our wives. For this same Scripture tells us,

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless (Ephesians 5:25-27).

We are to love our wives with the self-sacrificial love of Christ. And we are to do so to this end -- that we might present them as the crowning achievement of our greatest concentration and effort, so that in one sense, what she is and what she does, becomes a reflection of our own glory (cf. 1 Corinthians 11:7). 

Brothers, I share this today not as one who has applied these things to myself but one who needs to do so, so help me God. Let us not neglect that this great and needful ministry to our wives!

Passage: Song of Songs 1-8

On Sunday, August 5, 2012, Fernando wrote,
I didn't know who the lady was or the significance of a Shullamite, but if this was an inappropriate union I could see the significance of this book's position to serve as a warning to lust; not to say the least that more passages would make sense.

Chapter 3
After being home alone she seeks her love, finds him and desires to bring him back home... But nothing else is said.
A great build of desire then...

5, I adjure you, O daughters of Jerusalem, by the gazelles or the does of the field, that you not stir up or awaken love until it pleases.

It seems that they could have broke integrity. They flirted so close to the line then as if they omitted the rest to say whether they did or not

Its interesting, but I can also see the Ecclesiastes message of enjoy this vain life, yet do not forget the lord, with reminders like 'don't cross the line, until its time.'

Chapter 4, she is his wife. But in Jewish thinking, engagement is marriage, but its not consummated for a time.

So the tension, and only the tension, is appropriate. They are committed but can they consummate, have they given their vows? If so why the hidden end? I think they are fiancés and have not completed this phase of their relationship.

Chapter 8
1 Oh that you were like a brother to me who nursed at my mother's breasts! If I found you outside, I would kiss you, and none would despise me.

Again, they have to hide their affection. They risk being 'despised' by others for showing their love. Then again, we are given a scene with an intimate embrace:
3 Your left arm would be under my head, and your right arm would embrace me.

But this is hypothetical. Chapter 7 one shares a tantalizing idea to go and give to each other. Then chapter 8:1, A shared dreamy desire, a passion shared, but not left to its own will:

4 I adjure you, O daughters of Jerusalem, that you not stir up or awaken love  until it pleases.

Its as if through out this whole book there is a chase of passion and lust. An approach of crossing the line, but then when it is about to be fulfilled, we are warned not to cross the line.

I don't see a wedding before or during this book. I further think this demonstrates the power of lust, even well intended lust, such as these 2 engaged this since, even after multiple warning of 'not crossing the lines' she closes with an invitation:
14  Make haste, my beloved, and be like a gazelle or a young stag on the mountains of spices.

So the point? I think it has something to do with the ecclesiastical message of eat drink and be merry for all is vain. Then a shared application. They both however point to boundaries to be kept from unrighteousness.

*as a closing thought, if this bride is being inappropriate what has confused me in chapter 5 could make more sense.
5:7, The watchmen found me as they went about in the city; they beat me, they bruised me, they took away my veil, those watchmen of the walls.

These watchmen of the walls may be literal and figurative.
8:9, If she is a wall, we will build on her a battlement of silver,but if she is a door, we will enclose her with boards of cedar.

This was speaking of their little sister's virginity, with a wall metaphor.

8:10,  I was a wall, and my breasts were like towers; then I was in his eyes as one who finds peace.

I think she has confessed to no longer being a virgin I think she lost it to Solomon. I also think the guards bruised her since she was out late looking for a man inappropriately.

Passage: Song of Songs 1-8

On Sunday, August 5, 2012 (Last Updated on 8/5/2013), Yujin wrote,

Friends, along with many of you, this is my umteenth time to read the Song of Songs (or the Song of Solomon). Today's reading for me in the New Living Translation seemed even more sensually graphic than in other translations. For the first time the intense emphasis on beauty, even comparative beauty, and erotic love made me uncomfortable. I was made uncomfortable on two levels. First, it was physically arousing. Second, it was theologically disturbing. Could the one who wrote, "Charm is deceptive, and beauty does not last; but a woman who fears the LORD will be greatly praised" (Proverbs 31:30 NLT), have penned this book? 

But then I thought, when I think of Solomon, he is somewhat of an anomaly. How can the wisest man in the world be such a fool as to fall for the women of Canaan, leading to the division of the monarchy. I also thought, not everything in Scripture is meant to be prescriptive. So, when we read of Abraham lying to Pharaoh or Judas hanging himself in remorse, we are not to follow in their footsteps. We compare Scripture with Scripture and bring both the progressive revelation of Scripture as well as the whole counsel of the completed Canon of Scripture to bear in interpretation. We know that it is wrong to lie and certainly wrong to betray the Messiah, and so we condemn the actions of both Abraham and Judas. Now, if we can say that certain passages are not written prescriptively for our application, why not an entire book? 

I am just throwing this out for discussion, but is it possible that the Song of Songs was not written to be prescriptive for us but simply descriptive of Solomon and the Shullamite's lusty nature, by which he made the Lord angry and led to the division of the kingdom? It's emphasis on beauty, especially external beauty, is contrary to other texts that extol inner beauty and the greater value of character. It's titillating references to erotic love has no equal in the rest of Scripture, which seeks to do just the opposite; that is, where Scripture could be graphic, it chooses not to be (e.g. little description of Noah's nakedness and little detail of David's sin with Bathsheba). 

If my conjecture here is correct, then it turns the application of this book on its head. There is a reason that God is not mentioned in this book. It is not like Esther, where although God is not mentioned, His providence can be clearly seen in every chapter of the book. God may not be mentioned in the Song of Songs because He has been deliberately set aside in order to idolize love. Physical and emotional love is elevated to an almost desperate and intoxicating level. 

I have not found this perspective anywhere, and so the old dictum, "What is true is not new; what is new is not true," may apply here. Since I can give no precedent for my view, please take it with a grain of salt and let it merely challenge  you to think more deeply about the text. 

Passage: Song of Songs 1-8

On Friday, August 5, 2011, Misty wrote,

If Solomon were to write this book today, then and now he would be writing an essay on ancient jewish matrimonial relationships. From courtship, marriage, consummation, and so forth, we can see into what a relationship may have been like in the time of Solomon. What makes Solomon a good writer and why this book is written from a woman's viewpoint is that Solomon had many many wives and concubines, and he had the wisdom of the Lord. So he studied woman, and then he wrote about that intimate relationship that is between a man and woman.

I think we can take the book of the Song of Songs, and look at it literallly, allegorically, figuratively, and typologically. Literally, it is about the intimacy between a man and woman. Allegorically, if we don't dig in very deeply, its about a man and woman becoming one. Figuratively, it is about God and the King's relationship with Israel.

I will address typological separately. I use the apologetics study bible version HCSB, and what typological means is that it "speaks of God's intimate relationship with Israel and the marriage analogy. It recognizes that the Song of Solomon in its original context is a series of love poems. These poems celebrate matrimony, maintaining the propriety of the marriage metaphor and applies marital conjugal imagery between God and his People."

In other words, typological combines all the ways you could take study of Song of Songs, and says we can look at it in the way that touches our hearts the most. If that way is the allegory of courtship and marriage, then that way we GET what Solomon is saying.  If that way is similar to understanding how Christ is the bridegroom and sacrificed himself for the church, then that is the way we GET it. And so on.

And there is another way. The apologetics study Bible also mentions that the Song of Songs belongs to a well established genre of matrimonial poems, because there are other ancient documents that are wedding compositions. If other writers in solomon's time were writing about marriage and what goes on afterward, then Solomon may well have been thinking about marriage and decided to write down an experience he had. What better to write about than experience?

Maybe this is correct, maybe not. I don't know, but any way you put it, Song of Solomon is a beautiful book of poetry.

Passage: Song of Songs 1-8

On Friday, August 5, 2011, Yujin wrote,

Introduction to Song of Songs

Just as Holy of holies means holiest or most holy and Lord of lords signifies highest Lord,  the Song of songs signifies the most excelent song. This most excellent song is a song about love. In a similar way, when Paul introduces his great chapter on love in 1 Corinthians 13, he does so by writing, "I will show you the most excellent way" (1 Corinthians 12:31). Though expressed in many modern ballads today, it was the ancients who first recognized that love is the most excellent thing.

The book is a poetic drama without stage directions or cues. It is a dialogue of characters that can only be discerned by the context of what is said. Another difficulty is the back-and-forth between reality and metaphor. Sometimes, a literal "garden" or "vineyard" is being referenced, while on other occasions they are metaphors for individual sexuality. Complicating matters, there are a couple of places where the Shulammite may have been dreaming rather than having a real experience (Song of Songs 3:1-4; 5:1-7). These complexities, as well as the unsettling allusions to erotic love, have paved the way for a plethora of different interpretations for the book.

This book is attributed to Solomon (Song of Songs 1:1), and it tells the story of Solomon's budding relationship with a young Shulammite woman. There are plenty of descriptions of both Solomon, often called "My beloved" (Song of Songs 1:13, 14, 16; 2:3, 8-10, 16-17; 4:16; 5:2, 4-6, 8-10, 16; 6:1-3; 7:9-11, 13), and the Shulammite, often referenced as "my darling" (Song of Songs 1:9, 15; 2:2, 10, 13; 4:1, 7; 5:2; 6:4,13). It appears that  what is described is the courtship (Song of Songs 1:1-3:5), marriage and consummation (3:6-5:1), and post-marital relationship (5:2-8:14) between Solomon and the Shulammite. This is one interpretation, and the one that I feel best reflects a plain reading of the text. It is interesting that Shulammite (Song of Songs 6:13) is simply the feminine form of Solomon. Coincidence? Perhaps. But it may also suggest that Solomon's Song may be a somewhat fictitious account, albeit based on real people.

The Song of Songs is a nice complement to the Book of Ecclesiastes, which precedes it. Ecclesiastes focused on the vanity of life, while the Song of Songs extols the virtues of love. The pessimism of Ecclesiastes is balanced by the optimism in the Song of Songs. In Ecclesiastes, every pursuit in life seems futile, but in the Song of Songs love makes everything meaningful. Once again, we are reminded of the words of Paul in 1 Corinthians 13: 1-3,

If I speak in human or angelic tongues, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body [to hardship] that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

If Ecclesiastes appeals to the mind with its undeniable logic, the Song of Songs appeals to the heart with its irresistable passion. But whether speaking of life's laborious preocuppation with its own vanity or life's great obsession with love's intense longing, the reader understands that these are both gifts from God.  Ecclesiastes specifically mentions God as the source while, like the Book of Esther, the Song of Songs has no specific mention of God, but this is fitting because Ecclesiastes expresses knowledge of God by reason while the Song of Songs expresses knowledge of God through feeling. Perhaps this is why many Jews see the Song of Songs as depicting God's intimate love relationship with Israel while many Christians see depicted Christ's intimate love relationship with the Church.

Some background study and imagination may be helpful to better appreciate some of the descriptive passages in the book. For example, Solomon says of the Shulammite:

Your hair is like a flock of goats
That have descended from Mount Gilead.
Your teeth are like a flock of newly shorn ewes
Which have come up from their washing,
All of which bear twins,
And not one among them has lost their young (Song of Songs 4:1-2).

These are certainly not what you would expect to see in a romantic movie or read in a romance novel today. Yet, if you use your imagination a bit, perhaps you can see from a distance a flock of black-haired goats running down the side of a mountain. They would appear like undulating waves of black hair. Also imagine the pure white of ewes (i.e. young female sheep that have not yet given birth) that have been freshly shorn and washed. In the days before modern orthodontics and hygiene, a complete set ("not one among them has lost their young") of straight ("all of which bear twins"), white teeth would be remarkable. So, as you read this book, the better your imagination, the more you will likely appreciate what is being described.

One specific comment is in order. Many commentaries, including Tommy Nelson's popular exposition of this book, attribute the repeated words, "I adjure you, O daughters of not arouse or awaken my love until she pleases" (Song of Songs 2:7; 3:5; 8:4) to Solomon (or "thebridegroom") rather than the Shulammite (or "the bride"). All are agreed that this is an expression of restraint; however, there is disagreement as to who is saying it.  I believe it is the Shulammite that is speaking these words. The only clear references to the speaker for "the Daughters of Jerusalem" are found in Song of Songs 1:5 and 3:10, and they are clearly the Shulammite's words. Furthermore, the one most likely to show restraint seems to be the Shulammite, who is self-described as being like "a wall," a metaphor for restraint, as opposed to being "a door," another metaphor, signifying unrestraint (cf. Song of Songs 8:8-12). Solomon describes her as a virgin, "a garden locked...a spring sealed up" (Song of Songs 4:12). And considering Solomon's many wives and concubines and reputation near the end of his reign for loving them all, he does not exemplify restraint (cf. Songs of Songs 6:8-9; 1 Kings 11:1-3). Also, it was the Shulammite who did not initially open to Solomon in Song of Songs 5:2-3.

Like the Book of Ecclesiastes, the Song of Songs reserves its central message for the last verses:

      Set me as a seal upon your heart,
      As a seal upon your arm;
      For love is as strong as death,
      Jealousy as cruel as the grave;
      Its flames are flames of fire,
      A most vehement flame.
      Many waters cannot quench love,
      Nor can the floods drown it.
      If a man would give for love
      All the wealth of his house,
      It would be utterly despised (Song of Songs 8:6-7).

These verses convey both the passion and inviolability of committed love. Throughout the dramatic story of the Song of Songs, love's beauty, distress, longing, and idealized expression all testify to its power.

This book has been the most difficult for me to decipher even after many readings. I have had to repeatedly revise my introductory comments and exclude some significant interpretive assertions because I was unsure of their biblical basis. Even though the book is attributed to Solomon, it seems to be written primarily from a woman's perspective. Perhaps this is why it has been so difficult for me to unravel .  I appeal to the ladies of this QT group to chime in with your perspective. It is a beautiful book that seems to extol the virtues of courtship, wedding and consummation, as well as the issues, resolutions and affirmations in the building of the marriage that follows. But I am hesitant to draw too many applications because of my own uncertainty in interpretation.