So what do you discover if you do read or preach Song of Songs? You learn about a love that is as strong as death and burns like a blazing fire (8:6). Instinctively when we read that I think we know that is true- love is the force that moves us and motivates us most strongly. But the Song does more than simply gush about love! There is a proper shape to that love, which can be expressed in human relationships but is seen most perfectly in the relationship between Christ and the church. I have eight reflections from the Song on the shape of this love- I’ll post the first four now and the final four in a subsequent post. In no sense at all is this tight exposition- these are more a result of meandering meditations on the Song!
True love involves invitation and response
There is something beautiful about the relationship between the man and the lover throughout the song. At no point is force employed. The relationship involves the two of them constantly offering invitations to each other. The woman invites the man to kiss her in the opening stanza. The man invites the woman to come away with him in 2:10. He knocks on her door and wants to enter her room in 5:2. And the song ends with an invitation from the woman to the man to come away with her. They are constantly offering invitations to each other so that their relationship can be developed. Married couples may find something to reflect on there but, in addition, it is worth reflecting on the way in which this works between Christ and the church. It is a glorious thing that Christ says to His bride, “Come to me.” And, of course, it is not just the Song that ends with a bride inviting her man to come. It’s how the Bible ends. The great cry of the church today is an invitation to the groom- “Come!” The greatest day of all will be when He responds to that call.
True love leads to fruitfulness
The background to the song is worth noticing. Here is vibrant, colourful life. The lovers are constantly browsing amongst the lilies. Elsewhere there are apples trees, gardens and flourishing vineyards. All the senses are brought into play- we have sweet fruit to taste, wonderful perfume to smell, cooing doves to listen to, glorious teeth to gaze on and the lover’s embrace to be felt. This is life to the full and life in blazing colour.
What is worth noticing is this sense of fruitfulness is connected to the union of the lovers. One of the most moving passages comes in 1:6 where the woman reflects on her childhood. She was mistreated- forced to work under the heat of the midday sun in her brother’s vineyards whilst her own vineyard lay neglected. She lived under the oppression of others with no fruit produced. By contrast there is abundant fruit around when she is with her beloved. The blossoming vines spread their fragrance in 2:13.
Again, there are implications of this. Marriage is intended to be fruitful- both in terms of procreation but also in terms of fruitful service within God’s vineyard. But more than that it seems to me that the song shows us that love for God’s Shepherd/King brings us out from under the oppression of those who will leave us fruitless into a sweet relationship of abundance. Life in all its fullness is found in having Jesus as our beloved.
True love needs protection
It would be wrong, though, simply to portray this loving relationship as permanent bliss. The dream sequences, about which I will write next time, reveal some of the agonies of love. But there is a hint of challenge in 2:15- the observation that foxes could ruin the vineyard and need to be caught.
Again, this could be a cause of useful reflection for married couples and Christians alike. If this loving relationship is intended to be a place of fruitfulness, then what could prevent that? What would be the little irritants that would damage the blooming relationship and need to be caught.
For the Christian, it seems to me helpful to have appropriate images for sin for in the moment of temptation it will simply seem attractive. For instance Peter portrays sinful desires as the enemy in a war situation battling for our souls. In the Song is a further helpful image- sin is a fox that has come to eat up and devour the sweet fruit that is to be enjoyed within our relationship with Christ.
True love is to be celebrated
The centre of the Song is a wedding. Solomon arrives wearing how crown for the day his heart rejoices. He expresses his great love for his bride. The bride invites Solomon to come to her, to enter her garden in 4:16. He does so willingly in 5:1. And the friends (of which more next time)encourage them to enjoy themselves- “Eat, friends, and drink; drink your fill of love.” I suppose in contemporary terms it is the wedding guests waving the couple off as they head to their honeymoon.
Again, this affirms the goodness of sexual intimacy in the context of a marriage relationship. The Bible is not embarrassed by the physicality of this or the joy that it brings. The question is whether this can at all be applied to the church’s relationship with Christ. To bring sexual language into that relationship feels just weird and is one of the reasons why modern preachers tend to reject this line of interpretation.
The problem, though, is that our thinking is skewed. We tend to regard sexual activity as the great height of love. But that simply cannot be the case. If there is indeed no human marriage in the new creation then it might appear a rather dull existence if the greatest act of love in the universe revolves around sexual intercourse. That’s not to argue against sex being good: rather it is to say that it functions as a signpost to that which is even greater. The joy and satisfaction that comes from being married to Christ forever will be significantly greater than the best sexual relationship here on earth.
That’s why older commentators had no problem applying even the language of 5:1 as an encouragement to drink deeply of Christ and be satisfied. Jonathan Edwards, that theologian of joy, picked up 5:1 and came up with this fantastic phrase- “There is no such virtue as temperance in spiritual feasting.” The Christian cannot enjoy Jesus and His love for us too much.
It seems to me that our spiritual health would be greater if we cherished this image. Times of prayer are no mere duty. They are an opportunity to drink our fill of love. When I put church services together, I deliberately try to vary the tone for here on earth the sounds of lament need to be heard. But one of the tones that I will frequently try to strike is that of a spiritual feast where we get to hear from Christ and sing to Christ with the aim that our souls are deeply nourished and satisfied. It is one of the reasons I am keen for us to have longer times praising and enjoying Christ than perhaps has traditionally been the case. Why wouldn’t you do that? For Christ is our lover and we are encouraged to eat and drink at the greatest spiritual feast imaginable. That is truly wonderful.