The Royal Love Song
Among the seasons of life, one of the big ones is marriage. Again, not everyone marries, but for those who do, marriage brings special challenges, and special blessings, as well. Among those blessings is the wonderful gift of sexuality. What a powerful expression of love this gift, in the right time and the right place, can be.
Contrary to popular opinion, the Bible is not against sex. It’s against the misuse of this wonderful gift from the Creator to human beings.
In fact, the Song of Solomon, one of the smallest and perhaps one of the least-read books of the Bible, describes the relationship between a young Shulamite bride and her beloved, who is believed to be King Solomon himself. The book unfolds the mysteries of human intimacy and the delights of conjugal love in marriage. Although the Song of Solomon has frequently been treated allegorically as a symbol of the relationship of God and God’s people or of Christ and the church, it is first of all a poem on the love found in the very real human relationship of a man and woman.
This week we will look at marriage as portrayed in this Old Testament book.
Study this week’s lesson to prepare for Sabbath, May 11.
Some religions believe in dualism, a philosophy that views the human body as a problem for the life of the spirit. That is, the body is deemed bad while the “spirit” is deemed good. In Scripture, however, the human body, including its sexual characteristics, is integral to the whole being. Life is “body” and “spirit” (see Gen. 2:7). The psalmist gives the whole of himself in worship to God (Ps. 63:1, 84:2). The total person is to be sanctified, set apart for the holy purpose God intended.
Throughout this sacred text the human body is admired. The physical aspects of married love are not an embarrassment. A full range of emotions is openly presented.
Powerful sexual taboos typically exist in many cultures. Married couples thus often find it difficult to communicate in healthy ways regarding their intimate life. Similarly, children are often deprived of the opportunity to learn about sexuality in the setting of a Christian home where godly values can be integrated with accurate information. The Bible’s openness with sexuality calls His people to a greater level of comfort with this topic so that this vital aspect of life is treated with the respect and dignity due so great a gift from the Creator.
The Song of Solomon shows how friends spend time together, communicate openly, and care about each other. In the Song of Solomon, two good friends become married partners. The wife declares, “This is my friend” (Song of Sol. 5:16, NKJV). The word friend expresses companionship and friendship without the overtones of sexual partnership. Happy is the husband or wife whose spouse is a dear friend. Throughout the poem, intimate compliments and loving gestures convey the strong attraction, the physical and emotional delight, that the male and female find in each other. The natural intimacies of romantic love are a gift of the Creator, to help partners bond closely to each other in marriage. As partners are open to the work of divine love in their hearts, their human love is “refined and purified, elevated and ennobled.”—Ellen G. White, The Adventist Home, p. 99.
These verses also convey the loftiest of thoughts about love. True love, though, is not natural to the human heart; it is a gift of the Holy Spirit (Rom. 5:5). Such love bonds husband and wife in a lasting union. It is the committed love so desperately needed in the parentchild relationship to build a sense of trust in the young. It is the self-giving love that binds believers together in the body of Christ. The Song of Solomon calls us to make this love an active force in our relationships with our spouses.
Many have seen a “return to Eden” theme in the Song of Solomon. Though the couple described is not the first man and woman, the poem calls to mind the earliest garden. God’s plan that they be “one flesh” (Gen. 2:24, 25) is portrayed throughout in delicate metaphors and symbols.
Solomon invites her, “Come with me” (Song of Sol. 4:8). His bride responds. Later she invites him, “Let my beloved come into his garden” (Song of Sol. 4:16). He responds (Song of Sol. 5:1). Scripture here teaches there is to be no force or manipulation in this intimate setting. Into this relationship both partners freely and lovingly enter. “My garden” is “his garden.”
“Solomon” and “Shulamith” share names that are derivatives of the Hebrew shalom, “peace” or “wholeness.” Their admiration is mutual (Song of Sol. 4:1–5, 5:10–16). The balance in their relationship is evidenced even in the poetic style of paired lines and verses. The covenant expression “My beloved is mine, and I am his” (Song of Sol. 2:16) echoes the language of Eden, “This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh” (Gen. 2:23).
The Bible uses know for the intimate union of husband and wife. In this loving “knowledge,” the most hidden inner depths of their beings are offered to the other. Not only two bodies but also two hearts are joined in “one flesh.” Know also describes the relationship between individuals and God. For the discerning Christian the unique and tender knowledge of marriage, with its companionship, commitment, and unbounded delight, provides a profound insight into the most sublime and holy mystery ever, the union of Christ and the church.
Song of Solomon 4:16 and 5:1 form the very center of this book and describe, as it were, its climax as the marriage between Solomon and the Shulamite is consummated.
In the Song of Solomon, we find some of Scripture’s most compelling evidence for God’s plan that people remain sexually chaste until marriage. One of the most powerful is a reference to the Shulamite’s childhood, when her brothers wondered whether she would be a “wall” or a “door” (Song of Sol. 8:8, 9). In other words, will she remain chaste until marriage (a wall) or be promiscuous (a door). As an adult woman, she affirms that she has maintained her chastity and comes pure to her husband: “I am a wall” (Song of Sol. 8:10). In fact, he confirms that she is still a virgin up to their wedding night by saying that she is “a garden inclosed . . . a spring shut up, a fountain sealed” (Song of Sol. 4:12). From her own experience, she can counsel her friends to take the steps of love and marriage very carefully. Three times in the Song of Solomon the Shulamite addresses a group of women referred to as the “daughters of Jerusalem” to counsel them not to arouse the intense passion of love until the appropriate time (Song of Sol. 2:7, 3:5, 8:4); that is, until they find themselves safely within the intimate covenant of marriage, as is she.
For the second time in the poem the beloved invites his bride to come away with him (Song of Sol. 2:10, 4:8). Before the wedding she could not accept his invitation, but now it is she who invites him to her garden (Song of Sol. 4:16), and he gladly accepts (Song of Sol. 5:1). He is not just attracted to her beauty; she has stolen his heart (Song of Sol. 4:9), he is intoxicated with her love (Song of Sol. 4:10), and he is exuberant that she is his and nobody else’s now and forever: “My bride, my very own, you are a garden, a fountain closed off to all others” (Song of Sol. 4:12, CEV). In his union to this perfect woman he finds himself as reaching the Promised Land: “Your lips are a honeycomb; milk and honey flow from your tongue” (Song of Sol. 4:11, CEV).
God had a special purpose in creating humankind as male and female (Gen. 1:26–28). While each bears His image, the joining of gender opposites in the “one flesh” of marriage reflects the unity within the Godhead in a special way. The union of male and female also provides for procreation of a new life, an original human expression of the divine image.
Scripture disapproves of all that alters or destroys God’s image in humankind. By placing certain sexual practices off limits, God guides His people toward the right purposes of sexuality. When human experience is confronted by God’s precepts, the soul is convicted of sin.
Believers wait for release from the corruption of sin at Christ’s return. They wait in faith, considering themselves dead to sin through Christ’s death on the cross and alive in Him through His resurrection. Through unceasing prayer, watchfulness, and the power of the Spirit, they treat their sinful nature as crucified and seek to obey Christ in their thoughts. They acknowledge God’s ownership of their bodies and sexuality and use them according to His divine plan.
God forgives those who repent of sin (1 John 1:9). The gospel enables individuals who formerly engaged in promiscuity and sinful sexual activity to be part of the fellowship of believers. Because of the extent to which sin has altered sexuality in humanity, some may not be able to know full restoration in this aspect of human experience. Some, for example, might choose a life of celibacy rather than get involved in any sexual relationships that are forbidden by God’s Word.
Further Thought: “Marriage has received Christ’s blessing, and it is to be regarded as a sacred institution. True religion is not to counterwork the Lord’s plans. God ordained that man and woman should be united in holy wedlock, to raise up families that, crowned with honor, would be symbols of the family in heaven. And at the beginning of His public ministry Christ gave His decided sanction to the institution that had been sanctioned in Eden. Thus He declared to all that He will not refuse His presence on marriage occasions, and that marriage, when joined with purity and holiness, truth and righteousness, is one of the greatest blessings ever given to the human family.”—Ellen G. White, Daughters of God, pp. 180, 181.
As the Song of Solomon showed, sexual love can be a wonderful thing in marriage. But a lasting relationship cannot be based simply on the outward beauty and physical delights. Our bodies age and decay, and no amount of diet, exercise, or plastic surgery will keep us looking forever young. Solomon and the Shulamite’s marriage is a lifelong, committed relationship. Three times they affirm that they belong to each other (Song of Sol. 2:16, 6:3, 7:10). The first time it’s a recognition of mutual ownership (compare with Eph. 5:21, 33). The second time she reverses the order in affirmation of her submission (see Eph. 5:22, 23). The third time it expresses his desire for her (see also Eph. 5:24–32). Love like this cannot be drowned (Song of Sol. 8:7); it’s like a seal that cannot be broken (Song of Sol. 8:6).