Song of Solomon is an extended poem about the physical delight, the complete absorption of all the senses in the contemplation and consummation of sexual desire in married love. It helps us understand why the preeminent human relationship is that of husband and wife. It contains an idealization of concentrated love and affection as Solomon, under inspiration, envisioned it should be. Speeches of love and celebration of physical beauty surround a wedding. It serves as a paradigm of courting and marital emotion and devotion that apparently he never achieved, or perhaps found such devoted yet controlled passion this once. It puts in context the warnings of Proverbs about the enticement and danger of an unwarranted sexuality. The married relationship was initially established in Eden in the unfallen state with the physical beauty of both Adam and Eve fully open, without reservation or embarrassment. Solomon refers to this beauty, by simile, as “the work of the hands of a skillful workman” (7:1). Sin brought about hiding, embarrassment, and eventually a continuing decline into sexual perversity as an indicator of the heart of rebellion against all of God’s law (Romans 1:24-32). This book shows that sexual desire, far from being wrong, is intended to provoke a passion for union with another person so that all one’s emotional energies, sexual pleasures, and desire for intimacy in personality are concentrated on that one relationship. This heightened expression of the sexual attachment involved in love and marriage is designed canonically to manifest how deeply and all-consuming is the love of Christ for his church. Our desire for the knowledge of him and a participation in all his benefits must become so ineradicably embedded in our affections that we will desire him when we walk by the way, when we lie down at night, when we awake, when we reflect on his beauties and his perfect provision for our eternal well-being and exuberant joy.
I. Chapters 1 and 2 describe a courtship that is expressive of growing love and desire for the physical consummation of marriage (2:6, 7, 9). Song 2:6 is repeated in 8:3. The desire for physical intimacy expressed in the first has not diminished in the second. Feelings of a desire for unity aroused during courtship should remain alive in marriage. Note the consistent refrain of warning not to awaken love before its proper time. (see 2:7; 3:5; 8:4).
A. The woman puts the young women of Israel on oath (8:4), for her advice, born of deep experience, will help them cope with their proneness to emotion and the awakening sexuality. They should know that there is a time for fulfillment, but consummation before the proper time is not fulfillment but destruction.
B. Twice she points to the gazelles and does of the field (2:7; 3:5), probably as an example of how compelling and fierce a sexual drive can become if not disciplined by a rational spirituality. Do not give yourself like the wild animals who mate for the mere consummation of physical drive. Such strength of desire exists (2:9) but must be expressed within the establishment of a determination to use one’s God-given propensity for intimacy in a way that focuses on one person as God had ordained.
C. They should not, therefore, seek to stir themselves up to romance, or put themselves in a position where their desires will be provoked, until such a time as is appropriate for love. The entire book is a statement as to how consuming this desire can be once it is awakened and focused on a particular person. Make sure, therefore, so she charges them in the presence of the Judge of all the earth, that it is this person with whom you are willing to live and to whom you intend to give yourself wholly in the bonds of marriage.
D. Verses 2:10-13 presents a scene in which a spring adventure also serves as an image showing how love grows in tenderness and has the promise of luxuriant beauty. The future bridegroom notes that all nature has waked up, and spring now confirms the awakened and ever-fresh desires they have for one another. Their developing knowledge of one another sustains their relationship. Solomon invites his betrothed to join him in seeing the beauty of his lands and to realize that all of it will be hers. The sight of each other’s form and the sound of each other’s voices give more pleasure than the sights and fragrances of spring and all the sounds of nature (14). Those who see in this the love between Christ and the church could point to Bernard of Clairveaux’s hymn:
Jesus the very thought of Thee
With sweetness fills my breast.
But sweeter far Thy face to see,
And in thy presence rest.
No voice can sing, no heart can frame,
Or can the mem’ry find
A sweeter sound than Jesus’ name,
O Savior of mankind.
E. The image of little foxes that spoil the grapes is a metaphor for anything that spoils a mature harvest by ruinous invasion of pests.
- He warns her that they must not let petty disappointments or overly critical observations spoil the loveliness and power and promise of their mutual love and joyful expectations. Or perhaps, the consummation of their growing physical desires before marriage would ruin the full happiness of their future together (verse 15). Capture the foxes and do not let them spoil the developing fruit.
- The Christian must constantly be aware of ruinous attitudes and the subtle propensities of the flesh that are inconsistent with the holiness of Christ and the work of the Spirit. “If by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live” (Romans 8:13).
F. In Song 1:7 she has asked him “Where do you pasture your flock? Where do you make it lie down at noon?”
- Her certainty of where he pastures his flock (2:16) is only a small aspect of her knowledge of him now. She has become secure in their mutual love for each other. No insecurity (“little foxes”) can shake her confidence in their pledge and passion for each other: “My beloved is mine, and I am his.”
- In like manner, a maturing understanding of the infinite beauty and worthiness of Christ’s saving sacrifice for his people should result in a confidence that we are his and he is ours. Nothing in all of creation “will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:39).
G. While it is night they must be separated [Bether]. She tells him to reserve all his elegant physical beauty and strength for the appropriate time. His desire will not diminish but will be disciplined, ready for expression at the fitting time.
II. In spite of her commitment to physical separation prior to marriage and instruction to him to leave for the night, she is unable to release her mind from her desire to be with him (3:1-5).
A. In her bed, her mind is occupied with seeing her beloved. It is so, night after night. She aches in light of his absence. This should be compared to her coy behavior in 5:2, 3.
B. In verse 2, she goes to find him. She is unafraid and willing to brave the evening coolness and dangers of night just to find him and see him. She looks earnestly and yet cannot find where he is. Her soul loves him and the more she fails to see him the more her desire increases.
When shall I reach that happy place,
And be forever blessed?
When shall I see my Father’s face,
And in his bosom rest?
C. In verse 3, those men whose job it is to keep the city safe in the evening find her wandering. She is unashamed to tell them why she exhibits this desperate behavior at this time of night
- As we learn in 5:7, this could have resulted in harm to her but so solicitous is she for her beloved, that, on this occasion they allow her to keep up her search. It is clear that she poses no danger but is desperate to find the one “whom my soul loves.”
- This phrase is used in verses 2 and 3 (also verse 4) and indicates that, even in the absence of bodily union until this time, her emotional and mental union is profound. Union of heart and singleness of purpose in a couple must precede the physical sealing of that union.
- Even so, the saved person grows more intense in his devotion to Christ, in his estimation of the wonder of his personal presence, and in seeing that such a finality will bring to consummation the very reason for which we have been created. “We know that when he is revealed, we shall be like him for we shall see him as he is. And everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself, just as he is pure” (1 John 3:2, 3). “Having a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better” (Phil 1:23). “We are confident, yes, well pleased rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord” (2 Corinthians 5:8). The most pleasing way of entering into the presence of Christ, however, would be to be transformed even while alive and enter into the eternal incorruptible state without death: “For we who are in this tent groan, being burdened, not because we want to be unclothed, but further clothed, that mortality may be swallowed up by life. Now he who prepared us for this very thing is God, who also has given us the Spirit as a guarantee” (2 Corinthians 5:4, 5).
D. In verse 4, soon after leaving the watchmen, she finds him and clings to him. The separation for which she called must be abandoned. Solomon had taught concerning one’s seeking of wisdom, “I love those who love me, and those who seek me diligently will find me” (Proverbs 8:17). With that kind of ardor, she sought her beloved. With such undying passion so must we seek Christ for his beauty. We should not be able to bear any kind of separation from him. True love seeks the loved one.
E. She brought him to a familiar place where she could enjoy his presence, where she felt perfect acceptance, and there would be no opportunity for physical consummation. This was her mother’s apartment in the home and the place where she was conceived. This presents a safe situation but also one in which the fruit of married love is present in the future bride herself. This place where she was conceived promises the fruitfulness for their marriage. In 8:2, 3 she sees the house of her mother, after the marriage has taken place, as a venue for manifestation of physical love.
F. Given the strength of her desire and the difficulty of discipline, again she issues a warning to the “daughters of Jerusalem.” They should not “arouse or waken love until it pleases.” Sexual desire is not to be toyed with, not to be provoked with no hope of legitimate fulfillment. The ultimate expression of love in the giving of oneself is for the one from whom we will be separated only by death. But even death will not separate us from Christ.
III. As mentioned above, the awakening sensory nature of this book, should lead us to observe the intensity of Christ’s love for the church and how he gave himself for it. Many of the older interpreters, particularly the Puritans, make the entire book a metaphor of the relation of Christ to the church. To me, that does not seem to satisfy the full meaning of the text and, in light of God’s original purpose in marriage, this kind of celebration of romantic love certainly has a place in the canon of Scripture. That being said, we must also recognize that from the beginning God intended these exuberant expressions to give some indication of how deep the love of Christ is for his bride, the church, and to emphasize the fulness of blessings she possesses through the covenant of redemption. “From heaven he came and sought her to be his holy bride; with his own blood he bought her and for her life he died.”
A. These descriptions of the consuming power of love and its desire for union with the beloved should instruct us to contemplate, “In this is love, not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” (1 John 4:10) Combine that with “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lays down his life for his friends” (John15:13).
B. Paul points to this reality in Ephesians 5:22-33 and uses language that should be reminiscent of the absorption of the king with his bride to be: “gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor etc. . . .For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes it and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body.”
C. The kingly work of Christ in defeating the enemies of our soul by his death when he disarmed “rulers and authorities and put them to open shame by triumphing over them” in the cross shows the invincible character of his eternal love for the people given him by the Father. While he did that, he also became a curse for us, absorbing divine wrath in our stead.
Out of the ivory palaces,
Into a world of woe.
Only his great eternal love,
Made our Savior go.
Like Solomon coming to claim his bride, for Jesus this was “the day of the gladness of his heart” (3:11). “Who for the joy that was set before him, endured the cross, being utterly disdainful of any shameful public impression of dying such a death, and has set down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12: 2). More impressive than Solomon, Christ having purchased his bride by his blood, will come from the throne room of heaven to receive us to himself.
D. Christ, by his Spirit, awakens in his chosen people, his bride, for whom he came to give his life, a love for him and an increasing knowledge of his infinite excellence and incomparable beauty. He calls us from places esteemed as pleasant and powerful by men, but nothing and less than nothing when compared to the excellence of Christ. When we are raised from death to life by the work of the Spirit, we are raised with him and are seated with him in heavenly places.