Song of Songs

(264) September 21: Song of Songs 1-3 & 2 Corinthians 12

Ask God to open your mind, heart and will to understand, delight in and obey what you read.


To discover:­
As you read consider the impression given about marital love.

To ponder:
In the structure of the book 1v1-3v5 seem to reflect the passion between king Solomon (see 1v4, 12) and one of his wives, although some think the husband is not Solomon. As pre-marital sex was totally forbidden, the strong sexual language suggests marriage. First, the beloved longs to be kissed, delighting in her husband’s love as more intoxicating than wine and his name as carrying a recognisable pleasure like his own perfume. She longs to enter his chambers (1v2-4). He is admired by other women, and her friends rejoice in her love for him. Speaking now to her lover, she affirms how right they are to adore him and, as if defensive of the fact that he would love her, acknowledges that she is lovely despite her dark skin, brought about by working outdoors. (The ancients esteemed pale skin). At this point her longing moves her to seek a rendezvous. Her request to know where he rests his sheep is probably a metaphorical way of asking where he will pause at midday, undistracted and so with time for her. She wants to know this so that she doesn’t have to go out searching amongst his friends. The friends (or perhaps the lover) advise the woman on how to find him, and the tension mounts (1v8). If the man is not Solomon, then the sheep might be more literal, making him a shepherd.
            Now the lover, speaks: He delights in his beloved’s beauty (1v9-11). With her jewellery it is akin to the beauty of the stately and heavily adorned horses that draw Pharoah’s chariots. And, perhaps to draw out and display it all the more, he determines to make her more ear-rings. Without diminishing the importance of modesty, the Bible affirms beauty and the appropriateness of dressing beautifully too. The woman describes her attractiveness (or literal smell) as like a perfume smelt by her king, when at his table. And she sees him like a perfume between her breasts, perhaps longing for him to be there! With this in mind, she and he declare how attractive they find the other (1v12-17). Eyes as “doves” may imply they are round or peaceful. The verdant (lush) bed and house of cedars and firs, speaks of her longing to sleep with him outside amongst nature. Sexual desire is being celebrated, and the expressing of it commended.
            Modestly, the woman describes herself as only one amongst many flowers, but her lover counters that she is a lily amongst thorns, standing out in her beauty amongst women (2v1-2). Likewise, she describes him as an apple tree in the forest – ie. the most delightful tree, giving shade and tasty fruit, which is no doubt a sexual metaphor (2v3, see 8v5). 2v4 may refer to the intoxicating nature of her beloved’s love. Faint with love and desire, she longs to taste the fruit of his love, seeming to imagine him caressing her. Yet, as if shocked by the strength of her desire, she charges other women, by the beautiful and feminine looking gazelles and does, not to awaken love “until it so desires” – probably meaning, until the right person to marry comes along (2v5-7). These are wise words. The power of desire is such that loving people until the time is right can be both dangerous and deeply painful.
            Now she hears her lover and describes him bounding to their home with the noble and athletic beauty of a male gazelle or young stag. He looks through the window and invites her to come with him, wonderfully describing how spring has arrived. This may be an invitation to enjoy walking with him in the blossoming beauty of the season; but more likely in context, to make love amongst nature (see 1v16-17). At first, however, he is unable to find her, as he describes her as like a dove hiding in the cleft of the rock, and longs to hear her sweet voice and see her lovely face. The meaning of 2v15 is uncertain. It may be a metaphorical way of asking her to deal with whatever is keeping them from enjoying each other’s fruit. And it seems she does, as she declares how they are then each others, and he “browses amongst the lilies” (ie. enjoys her, see 2v1-2) until daybreak. Her call for him to be like a gazelle or young stag on the hills may be a call for him to enjoy her breasts. So 2v8-17 describe the thrilling joy of the husband coming to take his wife for a night of love-making in the spring countryside.
            3v1 seems to move to a different time, and stresses the woman’s longing. She lies awake all night waiting for her husband. As it was such a shocking thing for a woman to roam the streets at night, this section has been interpreted metaphorically or as a dream. But it is a literal reading that most stresses the power of desire. Longing for her husband, the woman does what was socially outrageous in order to be with him, even being prepared to face the shame of being seen by the watchman (3v1-3). Having asked if they had seen her husband, she found him and would not let him go until bringing him to the room of her mother’s house. This may be a euphemism for female parts (see 8v2, 5), or to be taken literally, stressing she took him to the closest house they could stay in because she so longed to be with him. Again, in the light of such powerful love she charges women not to awaken it until it is right (3v4-5).
            3v6-11 portray Solomon coming to marry the woman. He is fittingly perfumed, accompanied by his noblest warriors in battle array, seated in a richly adorned carriage he made especially, crowned by his mother for his wedding, and rejoicing in what is to take place. If the book was written for this marriage, 1v1-3v5 may be intended as a portrait of what the couple’s married life might then be. Alternatively, if the book was written later in the marriage, the middle section might simply be to recall the wedding. If the woman’s husband is not Solomon at all, then his appearance in 3v6-11 would simply be a sort of model for her groom. However, the parallel of these verses with the woman’s appearance in 6v10 suggest she is Solomon’s bride, strengthening the legitmacy of considering Christ’s marriage as Solomon’s descendent to the church.

Praying it home:       
Praise God for the joy that can be found in marriage. If you are married, pray you would delight in your spouse. If you are not, that you would be cautious with love.

Thinking further: Song of Songs    
Most likely, the primary intent of this love song is a celebration of marital love, free of stoicism and full of delight, with a warning not to awaken such passion until ready to marry. However, as marriage is intended throughout scripture to picture God’s commitment to his people, it is legitimate, whether intended by the author or not, to also see the book as a celebration of their love for one-another through Christ. Moreover, in the context of the wider wisdom literature where the wise are those who embrace the woman wisdom, we may see something of the joy to be found in wisdom here too. In being titled “Solomon’s,” the book may be by him or simply about him.

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(265) September 22: Song of Songs 4-5 & 2 Corinthians 13

Ask God to open your mind, heart and will to understand, delight in and obey what you read.


To discover:­
As you read consider what can be learnt about marriage.

To ponder:
The groom now addresses his bride, declaring her beauty: Her eyes behind her veil (perhaps for the wedding) are like doves, and so tranquil, her hair like a flock of goats descending a mountain, and so lustrous, with clean, white and symmetrical teeth, red lips, rounded temples, a long and impressive neck, and gentle breasts, which he declares he will “go to” and so enjoy all through their wedding night, as “hills” of sweet perfume. In short, he considers her flawless (4v1-7). He then pictures her almost like a goddess dwelling with wild animals on mountain tops, and calls her to himself, speaking of how she stole his heart with one glance from her eyes and when he looked on her beauty (4v8-9). He regards her love as more intoxicating than wine and more pleasing than perfume, her lips tantalizing, like dripping milk or honey, her aroma like a fragrance that was clearly highly regarded in Lebanon (4v10-11). But the sign that they are not yet married, is that she is like a locked up garden or sealed spring: Her many choice fruits and her satisfaction of his sexual thirst are not yet accessible to him (4v12-15). As is fitting in godly marriage, they will be his only if she is willing to welcome him. And she is (4v16), calling the winds to carry the fragrance of her garden to him, so that he may “come in” and “taste” its fruits. This is the consummation of the marriage, signified by the fact that here she describes herself as “his” garden. She now belongs to him.
            It is the sexual detail that makes clear the author’s purpose was a celebration of marital love, combined, perhaps, with a warning over the power of desire before marriage. And those who are married would do well to dwell on the beauty and desirability of their spouse. Indeed, Paul affirms how the body of each in any couple belongs to the other, and how they should not deprive one-another sexually (1 Cor 7v3-5). Sexual attraction is therefore an important factor in choosing who to marry. No doubt one of God’s reasons in inspiring this book, is to help rekindle sexual passion. Nevertheless, the delight of the groom over his bride does also speak of how the Lord delights in every aspect of his people, longing for them to be his. Moreover, the bride’s welcome of the groom speaks of how willing we should be to let Christ have us.
            5v1 simply and tastefully affirms the couple’s love-making. The groom declares how he has come into his garden, which is his bride, gathering her smell, tasting her honey, and drinking her wine and milk. And knowing what is going on, their friends, in support of their love and marriage, express their desire for them to eat and drink their fill. We too should encourage our married friends in their marriage.
            It’s difficult to quite know why 5v2-8 is here. It clearly parallels 3v1-5. Some think both metaphorically describe the wife’s feelings about sex. Others that they are dreams she has: the first about having sex with her fiancé, the second after they have sex for the first time. This is more plausible as both begin with sleep. But, a more literal event is quite possible, placing the latter section sometime into the marriage: Although in light sleep, the wife hears her husband and lover knocking at her door. He asks her to let him in, wanting to come in out of the night. At first she is reluctant, as doesn’t want to get redressed and dirty her feet after washing. This of course resonates with marriage beyond the honeymoon stage! But when her lover puts his hand through to open the door, her desire for him increased and her heart pounded. She got up to unlock the door dripping with the fragrance of sexual desire, only to find he had gone and her heart sink in disappointment. She looked, called and even went out to search for him, being beaten and robbed by the watchmen, who clearly didn’t know who she was. The point may be that she so longed for her husband that she did what was foolish, putting herself in danger’s way. This stresses all the more how daft it was for her to hesitate to welcome him in, suggesting the story may be intended to encourage couples not to miss opportunities to give themselves to one-another. Whatever the case, the wife charges her friends to tell her husband she is faint with love for him. They ask how exactly he excels others for her to ask them to tell him that. She responds with a description of his physical attractiveness as “outstanding among ten thousand”: He is radiant, ruddy, with golden skin and back wavy hair, tranquil and pale eyes like jewels, with cheeks and lips that are enticing and have a pleasing aroma for her. His golden brown arms and white (probably untanned) body are described as if decorated with jewels to stress their glory and preciousness to her. His legs are strong like marble, on golden brown feet, and his whole appearance strong and tall like cedars. His mouth, and so kisses, are sweetness itself and he is altogether lovely. We might expect the woman to have included some character traits in her husband as reasons for her love, as in wider scripture these are more important (1 Tim 2v9-10). However, we should remember the song has been written to celebrate sexual desire and enjoyment as a gift from God.

Praying it home:       
Praise God for the delight he has in his people. If you are married, pray that you and your spouse would more fully enjoy each other sexually. Whether married or not, pray that you would give wholly yourself to Christ.

Thinking further:
To read the NIV Study Bible introduction to Song of Songs, click here.

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(266) September 23: Song of Songs 6-8 & Galatians 1

Ask God to open your mind, heart and will to understand, delight in and obey what you read.


To discover:­
As you read consider what we are learning about physical attractiveness.

To ponder:
With the husband gone and the opportunity missed, the friends ask where he might be so they can look for him. The second reference to the wife as the “most beautiful of women” perhaps implies a certain jealousy of her marriage. In the context of the book, the wife’s reply is that her husband has now come to her, as she is “his garden” and the “lily” he browses (6v1-2, see 21v1-2, 16-17, 4v15-16). So she declares that they now belong to one-another (6v3) and, as if in response, he praises her beauty once more: She is compared to the two most glorious cities in Israel, and as majestic or regal, inspiring awe in him as troops would. Her eyes overwhelm, and her hair, teeth and temples are described as before (see notes on 4v1-3). He (most likely Solomon) sees her as superior to his (so far?) sixty queens, eighty concubines, and the innumerable virgins who served him. She is beautiful like the dove, perfect, unique, her mother’s favourite, and the one praised not just by women in general, but by the queens and concubines too (6v4-9).
            After this exalted description of the wife, the friends see her, asking who it is who is glorious like the dawn, fair like the moon, radiant like the sun, majestic like the stars. The superlative language does make us wonder whether the Lord intends the book to look beyond this human marriage to his union with the church. Jesus beautifies his bride to present her to himself as radiant, without wrinkle or blemish (Eph 5v25-28). Whatever our outward appearance, God sees us in Christ with this beauty, and will beautify us in soul and in body too.
            6v11-12 are probably spoken by the woman rather than her husband. The language may metaphorically describe her as having gone to see if she could enjoy a sexual encounter with her husband. The meaning of verse 12 is unclear, but no doubt understood by the original audience. It may allude to her desire for him, meaning that in her marriage she will be leaving the people. They call her back, to gaze on her beauty. (“Shulammite” may mean “perfect one” or “Solomoness”). Her husband asks why people should want to keep her there and gaze on her, then describing her physique (as she did him, 5v10-16) as worthy of royalty: Her feet are beautiful, her legs glorious and precious like jewels, and shapely as if crafted. Her navel is rounded, with wine to be enjoyed. Her waist has the hourglass figure of wheat bound by lilies. Her breasts are gentle, her neck like an ivory tower (so perhaps it was he face that was so tanned), her eyes clear and blue like pools, her nose elegant like towers, her head crowning her beauty like a majestic mountain, and her hair captivating like a tapestry. In short, she is beautiful, pleasing and delightful (7v1-6). She is tall like the palm tree with breasts like fruit. And her husband wants to climb and take hold of that fruit, enjoying the fragrance of her breath and her mouth in kisses like wine (7v7-9). And contrasting 5v3 she now expresses that she is more than willing, desiring that her wine go to him, stressing that she belongs to him and he desires her, and asking that they go to the countryside to make love during the night, as previously (7v9-13, see 1v16-17, 2v11-13). (“Mandrakes” were regarded as an aphrodisiac, affirming a double-entendre in 7v12-13). The proposal shows how confident the wife has become in marriage to now be approaching her husband. Indeed, the offer of both “new and old” delicacies suggests a willingness to develop the nature of their lovemaking.
            In the ancient world showing public affection even for one’s husband was frowned on, so she wishes he were her brother, so she could kiss him openly. She desires also to lead him to her “mother’s house” and give him wine and fruit. This may refer to her previous home, or be a euphemism for female parts (also 3v4). Whatever the case, she contemplates him caressing her and warning others against the danger of such powerful desire (8v1-4).
            Here the friends note not the groom coming to his wedding (as 3v6), but the woman leaning on him. They are now together. And she speaks of “rousing” him at the same place that he mother conceived and gave birth (3v5). As it is extremely unlikely his mother did both under an apple tree, she is most likely referring to her female parts, where conception and childbirth take place, and perhaps also to the male genitals as the “apple tree.” In the light of their sexual union, she asks him to make her a “seal” over his heart and on his arm – a visible sign that she belongs to him and he is devoted to her. This is the nature of marital faithfulness, and she notes it is needed because love and jealousy can be a strong, irresistible and destructive as death and the grave, or a blazing fire that cannot be quenched. This is why she has warned her friends. And this is why sexual love must be expressed within marriage. It is too powerful and dangerous if given then spurned, to be unleashed without such lifelong commitment. Moreover, such love cannot be bought (8v6-7). We might consider the love of God for us in Christ, that burnt with such intensity that even death couldn’t snuff it out.
            In response to the woman’s description of the power and danger of love, her friends ask what they can do to protect their young sister who is not yet developed, committing to using the best materials so that she cannot be scaled or opened (8v8-9). This concern to protect the virginity of the young (and, no doubt, of oneself) until sexual maturity and marriage is being commended. The woman, however, responds that her breasts are like towers. In other words, now she is developed, she has become to her husband one bringing contentment. And whereas Solomon charged people to enjoy the fruit of his vineyard, and pay towards it being tended, she tends her own (ie. her body) and gives it freely (8v10-11). In the light of that her lover (Solomon?) responds by asking to hear her voice, and she calls him, again, to come, and be like the gazelle or young stag enjoying her “spice-laden mountains” (8v13-14).

Praying it home:       
Praise God for his love for his people and commitment to beautifying them in Christ. Pray that young people you know would be able to resist the temptation to sexual immorality.

Thinking further:
None today.


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