In the last two posts I have argued that, despite the difficulties of handling the text, we need to read and preach Song of Songs more. We live in a culture where there is much talk about love and the song gives us an opportunity to speak about a love which is as strong as death. That sounds engaging! It gives us two things to say into our culture. It does give us right parameters so that this astonishingly powerful force is used for our good. And it points to the climax of love- the place where perfect love if found and experienced. In the last post I picked up four lessons from the song for our contemporary world and, in this final post, I want to talk through four more.
True love has a single focus
There is a refrain that comes up three times within the song in 2:7, 3:5 and 8:4. “Daughters of Jerusalem,” the female lover says, “I charge you by the gazelles and the does of the field: Do not arouse or awaken love until it so desires.” It is the same each time, save for the fact that the gazelles and does disappear in chapter 8. What does it mean? It seems to be advice passed on by the woman to those who are slightly younger than her. The call is this: don’t be hasty, don’t plunge in too early. You find a similar ethical point made in 8:9. The young sister is encouraged to be a wall rather than a door. The point is clear- the wise girl does not let lots of men into her.
One of the tragedies of modern society is the sexualisation of the young. Reading Song of Songs again has made me realise afresh what an agony this is. The love evidenced in the song is beautiful and precious and it is desperately sad that we increasingly go for cheap and tacky alternatives. Christian parents need to address sexual issues with their children much earlier than a generation ago otherwise children will get their ethics from the playground rather than the Bible. Song of Songs might be an interesting way of teaching them. Here is an unembarrassed and beautiful expression of love. But don’t jump the gun. Be a wall not a door.
But the implications are not just for human sexuality. When it came to lovers, Israel often became more door like than wall like. There are reasons why idolatry is referred to in the language of adultery throughout the Bible. Song of Songs calls us to rejoice in an exclusive devotion to the shepherd-king and so avoid the hurt that comes from having many lovers.
True love is worked out in community
The other interesting thing about the refrain is the mention of the Daughters of Jerusalem. A fair amount of the Song does feature the man and woman looking into each other’s eyes and saying pleasant things to each other. But that is not exclusively the case. Throughout the song you have friends appearing, offering encouragement to the couple and celebrating their love. We have just noted the way in which the woman offers help to those coming behind.
I remember hearing a joke that Christian couples were a bit like a scene from Lord of the Rings. They put a ring on and then disappear. I am encouraged to say that my own experience has been the opposite of this. Both within Woody Road and other friends I have seen couples with very open homes, seeking to encourage others and ask for help when needed. That is as it should be. Of course, couples need time together and that has to be protected but if people only spend time looking into each other’s eyes then they are not living out the love portrayed in the song. True love is worked out in the context of community.
The course of true love never did run smooth
Shakespeare and the Song agree! The centrepiece of the song seems to be the wedding scene in chapter 4. However, it is surrounded by two more difficult sequences- from 3:1-5 and 5:2-6:3. It is possible that a dream is taking place- the woman is on her bed, sleeping yet awake. The dream is a nightmare revolving around separation from her lover. In chapter 3 she cannot find him and in chapter 5 he has gone by the time she has got to the door. She is saddened by his departure and goes off to find him. That leads to a brutal scene in 5:7. The watchmen in the city see a woman wandering through the city on her own and they exploit her. The song is not completely cut off from the terrible perversions of sexuality that men have perpetrated. The woman’s love for the man means that she continues to pursue him until they are reunited.
It seems to me that there are implications both for human and divine marriage. Neither will always run smooth. Human marriage won’t be permanent bliss: there will need to be times of pursuing each other again so that the couple do not simply drift apart. Throughout church history, though, these chapters have been used as a picture of the “dark night of the soul.” It speaks of a period when the sweetness of loving fellowship with the Lord has been lost and a sense of distance has set in. The Song indicates that such things will not be outside of our experience, although they may be brought on by the bride’s lack of response to the knocking of the groom. We must not settle for these times being the norm however. Given that our lover is indeed outstanding amongst ten thousand we will want to be those who seek Him rather than being content to feel distant from Him. For nothing is better than being able to say, as the woman does at the end of her search, “I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine.” (6:3)
True love is ultimately seen in a bridegroom coming for his bride
There are loads of pictures in the Song that I love. But one of the highlights for me when I preached on chapter two earlier this year was the chance to talk about the male lover leaping over the mountains like a stag to reach the house of his woman. Isn’t that what Jesus did? It is not hard to imagine Him coming down through the heavens, living his 33 years on this earth, even going through the agonies of the cross in order that He might come to meet His bride. He comes from afar for His bride. From heaven He came and sought her to be His holy bride. It is a glorious image.
And the whole of history is heading for the day when a King will come for His bride, just like the picture at the end of chapter 3. It is the day when His heart will rejoice. The fact that He is looking forward to the day when He is married to us slightly astonishes me but the song is clear- “How beautiful you are my darling.” And everything leads us to the climactic ecstasy of the bride and groom enjoying each other’s love in a place where every longing is satisfied.
The Song and history are heading towards that day when Jesus weds His church. For all the couples I know the period of engagement seems to revolve completely around getting ready for the wedding day. That’s not a bad description of the Christian life. It’s about getting ready for that day. And what a day it will be for we will have a leading role in the greatest royal wedding that the world has ever known. To fix our eyes on that day gives us a deep sense of the beauty of Christ and the depth of His love for us. These are deeply refreshing realities which cause us to wonder why we would ever want any other lover. It seems to me that the wedding between Christ and the church is portrayed most clearly in the Song than anywhere else. It is the supreme place where that love which is as strong as death is most gloriously fulfilled. So why wouldn’t you read and preach Song of Songs?