I started writing the posts for this study of the short 8-chapter-long Song of Songs in July 2019. It is ridiculous that it has taken me over a year to complete it, but it can’t be helped. I’m determined to finish what I started! Click the “Bible Book Studies” category filter found at the bottom of this post (illustrated below) to find the rest of the studies.
As a reminder, the Song of Solomon plays out not as a linear story, but rather as a series of memories or scenes depicting various aspects of the marital and sexual love of Solomon and his bride, who I’ve dubbed “Kallah” for the purposes of this study. When I left off Chapter 7, we had just witnessed a description of a romantic love-making session between Kallah and Solomon. In these studies, I look at the biblical passage first (The Song), then make a few observations of application to The Marriage, and then to The Church. We are ready to pick up with another scene or memory in verse 11 and two more scenes in Chapter 8. Finally, we read the concluding thoughts of this amazing book.
11 Come, my beloved,
let us go out into the fields
and lodge in the villages;
12 let us go out early to the vineyards
and see whether the vines have budded,
whether the grape blossoms have opened
and the pomegranates are in bloom.
There I will give you my love.
13 The mandrakes give forth fragrance,
and beside our doors are all choice fruits,
new as well as old,
which I have laid up for you, O my beloved.
In this passage, Kallah remembers a time in which she takes charge and plans a getaway for the couple. She invites Solomon to go with her away from the palace to the countryside for a romantic “weekend” if you will. She teases some of her plans, indicating an early morning excursion into the fields where they’ll make love and explore all the delicacies (both old and new) of sensuality that she has planned.
Chapter 8 is a conclusion to the book that serves to offer a few more memories and words of wisdom about this topic.
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.
2 I would lead you and bring you
into the house of my mother—
she who used to teach me.
I would give you spiced wine to drink,
the juice of my pomegranate.
Kallah’s wish that Solomon were like a brother to her is a reference to the cultural norms of the day. It would not be appropriate for the wife of the king to openly display her affection in public. However, a brother or sister would not have those same constraints. She expresses her wish that she could freely show her affection to her husband without the disdain of others. This sheds some additional light on the previous passage and why Kallah was so interested in whisking Solomon away to the countryside where the trappings of society could be loosened a bit.
3 His left hand is under my head,
and his right hand embraces me!
4 I adjure you, O daughters of Jerusalem,
that you not stir up or awaken love
until it pleases.
Here Kallah reflects on the embrace of her husband in bed and repeats a phrase for the third time in this book – “I adjure you, O daughters of Jerusalem, that you not stir up or awaken love until it pleases.” As I’ve said before, this is a strong statement encouraging the reader to keep sexuality in its proper context – within the confines of a committed marriage relationship. To “stir up or awaken” love is a very powerful thing!
Kallah has one more reflection to share, and it really is the culminating theme of the entire book.
5 Who is that coming up from the wilderness,
leaning on her beloved?
She fondly pictures herself arm in arm with her husband, almost like remembering a wedding picture.
Under the apple tree I awakened you.
There your mother was in labor with you;
there she who bore you was in labor.
6 Set me as a seal upon your heart,
as a seal upon your arm,
for love is strong as death,
jealousy is fierce as the grave.
Its flashes are flashes of fire,
the very flame of the LORD.
7 Many waters cannot quench love,
neither can floods drown it.
If a man offered for love
all the wealth of his house,
he would be utterly despised.
This passage returns to the thought just discussed about the sheer power of love. She includes some very strong imagery about the marital love that they share:
- I awakened you – Kallah acknowledges that the love Solomon has for her (and she for Solomon) is that same love that she adjured the daughters of Jerusalem NOT to awaken “until it pleases.” This powerful entity – beyond just feeling and emotion – of strong commitment. sexual energy, and unity of purpose has been awakened between them.
- Set me as a seal – Kallah identifies this seal on two symbolic body parts – the heart and the arm. The seal would be a mark of ownership, but also would be a mark of security. To bear the seal of someone would indicate that that object belongs to or is owned by that person. It also would close up an opening (like a lock) to prevent access by someone else or serve as a warning if the seal has been compromised. To have the heart sealed is an internal seal, known by the husband or wife, as a sense or reminder of commitment. To bear the seal on the arm would be an external statement to others that the husband/wife belong to each other.
- Love is strong… jealousy is fierce – These statements remind us again of the power associated with their love. This is no fly-by-night affair. This is an almost explosive, energetic force that binds them exclusively together.
- Its flashes are flashes of fire, the very flame of the Lord – This is the ONLY place in the Song of Songs in which the name of God appears, and hence it needs to be carefully considered. This whole book has focused rather explicitly on the celebration of marital sexual love between a husband and wife. Here in this verse we see that this love (and all the associated energy, commitment, joy, and fervor that comes with it) is a picture of the power of God. I’ll speak to this a bit more in the application section below.
- Many waters cannot quench love – A godly love between husband and wife is enduring and can’t be quenched.
She finishes by saying that love is priceless and beyond compare with anything else. Now the “others”, periodic observers who interact with Kallah during her reminiscences, pose a question and promptly provide an answer themselves.
8 We have a little sister,
and she has no breasts.
What shall we do for our sister
on the day when she is spoken for?
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.
These observers bring up the existence of a young girl, asking about how to guide her through the onset of puberty and prepare her for marriage. They answer their own question by making the observation that their “coaching” of her will depend on her own personality and character. If she is a “wall”, this would be an indication of a strong character – a natural leader, sure of herself, and likely able to withstand the coming sexual temptations and lures presented her by future courters. For such a girl, she can be proud of that confidence (though not lax about it) and take charge of her appearance and interactions with others. On the other hand, is she is a “door” she is one who is prone to be a follower of others, easily and willingly providing opportunity for seduction. I don’t mean to imply that she’s asking for trouble – she just has a character that makes her susceptible to dangerous influences in the sexual arena. In this case, the “others” would surround her with influences (boards of cedar) which can serve to fortify her defenses and help her to see danger coming and stand against it.Now Kallah reflects on her own upbringing.
10 I was a wall,
and my breasts were like towers;
then I was in his eyes
as one who finds peace.
11 Solomon had a vineyard at Baal-hamon;
he let out the vineyard to keepers;
each one was to bring for its fruit a thousand pieces of silver.
12 My vineyard, my very own, is before me;
you, O Solomon, may have the thousand,
and the keepers of the fruit two hundred.
Kallah acknowledges that she is a person of strong character and leadership. She is able to take charge, sexually and otherwise, and Solomon recognized this as a positive trait. She then asserts that she belongs to Solomon by using a vineyard metaphor. Just as Solomon owns the land and produce, yet enables others to work the land and share in its produce after giving him his due, so Kallah owns her own vineyard (her body and self) and gives its riches freely to Solomon, essentially giving him first priority over its delicacies.
13 O you who dwell in the gardens,
with companions listening for your voice;
let me hear it.
14 Make haste, my beloved,
and be like a gazelle
or a young stag
on the mountains of spices.
This short interchange is a quiet epilogue to the book. Solomon simply expresses his desire for the keeper of the gardens, and Kallah invites him to enjoy its pleasures!
This final passage from Solomon’s Song of Songs leads me to four observations for a Godly marriage and sexual relationship.
Be uninhibited and free in the celebration of your love for each other. Kallah was a take-charge kind of woman in their sexual relationship. We’ve seen through the course of this study that she has her share of ups and downs and insecurities, but she nevertheless shows at the end of Chapter 7 that she is willing to step out and take the lead at times as well. Julie Sibert, the writer of one of the blogs that I read periodically, wrote a post titled “I Think the Proverbs 31 Wife Liked Being On Top” for another site, and then a companion article called “Five Truths About Sexual Confidence” for her own site. These articles are about ten years old, but I feel they do a good job addressing the issue at hand.
The counterpoint to the above statement is to make sure the free and uninhibited celebration of your love remains in the context of “acceptable” behavior. The apostle Paul kicks off a discussion regarding sexual immorality in 1 Corinthians 6:12-20 by saying, “‘All things are lawful for me,’ but not all things are helpful. ‘All things are lawful for me,’ but I will not be dominated by anything.” I believe that the sexual relationship between a husband and wife should be freely expressed and mutually enjoyable to both. However, that doesn’t mean that “anything goes”. The Bible is very clear about certain sexual activities which are NOT encouraged, even within marriage. Prostitution, adultery, fornication (sex outside of marriage), homosexual relationships and behavior, incest, orgies, rape, and harmful activities (e.g. BDSM) would all fall into the category of not being “helpful”. Now, I also believe that God is able and willing to forgive us when we confess our sins and repent. The Song of Songs is given to us to illustrate the fun and freedom that a Godly sexual relationship can be, but it HAS to be kept within the context of the rest of Scripture.
Allow your love to showcase the “flame of the Lord.” Returning again to Paul’s epistles, in Ephesians 5:31-32 he says, “‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.” Did you catch that? Paul says that the one-flesh relationship between a husband and wife refers to (or paints a picture, if you will) Christ and the church. The way we engage sexually with our spouse should reflect how Christ and the church engage with each other. Conversely, the way we are as Christians should be reflected in our marriage beds as well. I’ll elaborate on this a bit more in “The Church” section below.
Recognize the influence your relationship is able to have on the next generation. Throughout Solomon’s Song of Songs, the “others” represent those who witness the intimate relationship between Solomon and Kallah and are instructed by it. Sometimes they ask questions, but sometimes they are simply addressed by the lovers regarding what they may have witnessed (e.g. “don’t stir up love until it pleases”). Our sexual relationship should not be a taboo subject with others, especially those whom are looking to us for guidance and leadership. Take advantage of those teachable moments to discuss sex and marriage. This ties in with point number 3 above as well about letting our marriage reflect our relationship with God. We can use sex as an evangelistic and discipling tool!
Using the same four observations as above, I’ll now apply this to the church in general.
Be uninhibited and free in the celebration of your love for Christ. God does not want us to be ashamed of Him. Rather, he enjoys it when we openly enjoy Him. Sing your praises so others can hear. Go out of your way to plan special times of worship and intimacy with God. Spend time in prayer and studying His word. Don’t let yourself fall into a rut of “same old, same old”!
The counterpoint to the above statement is to make sure your free and uninhibited celebration of your love for God remains in the context of “acceptable” behavior. Just as I warned above of sexual activity which are expressly forbidden and unhealthy for our marriages, so to we must be cautious in our relationship with God. If you think about the list I generated above of “taboo” sexual practices (and that list is in no way intended to be comprehensive), many of those practices are encouraged by others who are not acting or advising within the context of a biblical, Christian foundation. As we seek to serve and worship our God, we must also be very careful of which voices we choose to listen to and who we choose to follow. Make sure your church and believing friends are following clear biblical teaching. Don’t be afraid to question something you’re not sure about and seek “a second opinion” from a quality, Christian leader or mentor. There are many “voices of faith” out there who, when you look closely at what they are saying, are not following the clear teachings of Scripture. Above all, let the Bible be the final authority!
Allow your love to showcase the “flame of the Lord.” Let me elaborate on the “sex and evangelism” theme I alluded to above. When you are “in the moment” with your spouse, you can lose awareness of anything else but him/her. This is the kind of relationship or intimacy God wants us to have with Him as well. Sometimes it takes a while (think foreplay) to get our minds straight and rid ourselves of distractions when we are worshipping or praying. Conversely, sometimes we can get swept off our feet unawares and have spontaneous worship. Do you see the connection and similarity between sex and worship? Another thing to consider is the frequent metaphor in scripture linking prostitution and idol worship. Our fidelity to our spouse should reflect the fidelity we have with God. Just as we shouldn’t seek companionship or illicit affairs with someone, we should remain focused on God and God alone.
Recognize the influence your faith is able to have on the next generation. It is incumbent on us to share our faith with others. Just as we need to raise our children with a godly view of sex, so we must seek to influence and evangelize the world for Christ. Sometimes it is sufficient to let others simply “see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven (Matthew 5:16). But as Paul says in Romans 10:14-15 , “How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!”
Sigh. Finished, after a year plus! Stay tuned for more Bible studies later!