Wisdom for Love, Courtship, Marriage, Sex & Salvation

Updated: 7 August 2011

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Wisdom for Love, Courtship, Marriage, Sex & Salvation

An overview of the Song of Songs, also called the Song of Solomon

The Song of Songs is the last the "Wisdom" books in the Old Testament of the Bible. These books are Job, the Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and the Song.

In form the Song of Songs (or the "superlative song", the "best song") is a love poem celebrating man-woman love, especially the sexual part, which it does with great delicacy and yet with striking vividness and passion.

The author is in doubt among many scholars - some say King Solomon, who wrote Proverbs and Ecclesiastes, and 1005 songs (1 Kings 4:32). Some say no, it was written for Solomon - he was the audience. Others that the name of Solomon is just a literary, poetic, device.

Some among the ancient Hebrews doubted its right to be in the Bible at all (it never mentions God), and debated this, but determined that it was part of God's inspired Holy Scripture - Rabbi Akiba in the first century AD said "Heaven forbid that any man in Israel ever disputed that Song of Songs is holy. For the whole world is not worth the day on which Song of Songs was given to Israel, for all the Writings are holy and Song of Songs is holy of holies." (Mishnah Yadayim 3:5).

A Misunderstood book

It has perhaps suffered more from its friends than its enemies. Many Rabbis saw it as an allegory of God's love for Israel. (allegory is when a story personifies virtues and evils in order to teach; a well-known example is Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress, with its "Mr Facing-both-ways, Mr Pliable, Mr Worldly-Wiseman, Mr Greatheart, friend Faithful, giant Despair and Doubting Castle.) Many Christian teachers saw it as an allegory of Christ's love for the church. In both cases the sexual side is explained away and spiritualised - eg, the two breasts and the bunch of myrrh of 1:13 become the Old Testament, New Testament, and Christ nestled in between them - yes it is true, but you don't get it from this Scripture!. As there is no mention of the Song in the New Testament, all this is conjecture - we have no warrant for pinning an allegorical meaning to it.

Others have tried to make it an historical narrative, overlooking the liberty that poetry gives an author to mix up things which narrative must not. One idea is that it is the old story of an "eternal" triangle, with King Solomon, the Shulamite woman and a rustic shepherd lover. One modern interpretation has it celebrating young sexual intimacy before marriage, because 1:4 speaks of the King bringing her into his bedroom before the wedding in chapter 3, but this again assumes that the chapters follow a strict time sequence. So much of this is conjecture.

What then - for what it is worth my opinion is that we should see it primarily as a collection of love poems celebrating the joy of sexual union in marriage, and learn what we can from it. God, who made man and woman, and joined the first man and woman as one flesh, has not been silent.

Love is the Answer, but while you are waiting...

Film producer Woody Allen - "Love is the answer; but while you are waiting for the answer, sex raises some pretty good questions." - a distortion? Why?

In the 50s the McGuire Sisters sang "Love and Marriage, go together like a horse and carriage...you can't have one without the other!" Serious, or ironic? Either way it is still true. Sex without real life-long love is separating two things that should not be separated - two things that wither and die alone.

Some Google searches
word Number of pages found
"love" 7.1 billion
"power" 3.8 billion
"sport" 3.4 billion
"money" 3.2 billion
"sex" 2.9 billion
"happiness, joy" 1.4 billion
"sleep" 0.8 billion
"food" 0.7 billion
"peace" 0.2 billion

So it seems that love outranks money, sex and even (perish the thought) sport!

A Love Story - and one that is a celebration of Eros Without Shame

High school Latin teacher - "What's that book doing in the Bible!?" 2 Timothy 3:16 - " all Scripture is breathed out by God and is profitable". No surprise that God should tell us about this wonderful, powerful (and in a fallen world, dangerous) sexual part of our nature as men and women made in His own image.

We are not as shy as earlier generations (which is not same as being any better) - sex is much more open. We need to understand it God's way, which is best.

Sex is not evil. God made both the body and sex - man's strength & woman's curves. God makes nothing evil. Not as the Greeks thought (eg, Pandora, 1st woman, made to be a trap) . Not as a "necessary evil" so we can have babies.

Woman was made by God to be man's complement (not "compliment", but be sure there are plenty of these too, and in both directions!) - to be "the other half" - man is incomplete without woman. Woman is incomplete without man. "So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them." Genesis 1:27, ESV

Sex is good, great, delightful - this book says so! "Let him kiss me..." SoS 1:2, real lips, real kissing!

A word about Eros - The word is not in the Greek of the New Testament, but comes from Greek, being both the name of the pagan god of love, "Eros" ("Cupid" in Roman mythology) and also the word for sexual love between a man and a woman. Since God designed Eros, it is good. Words change meaning with time, and for we moderns "erotic" is often tainted with pornography (hard, soft or advertising). It need not be so - porn is eros defiled - the Song of Songs is eros reclaimed.

But timing is vital

Do not "stir up or awaken love until it please." 3 times repeated. (2:7, 3:5, 8:4)

When, then?

Courtship first - the awkward beginnings - the time of beginning to know each other - just infatuation? real love? just in love with being in love? (yes, that is all too possible - the buzz and glow of being "loved" can easily disguise what is in reality a love of myself). It takes time to know another person, and it takes time to know yourself. "You can't hurry love, no, you just have to wait, she said love don't come easy, its a game of give and take" (The Supremes, 1966). Love & communication can't be hurried. (see the quotation at the bottom)

Here is a good place to mention that there are several types of love.

The best is worth the wait!

The Marriage - the time has come, the marriage has begun. ("I never knew what happiness was until I got married - then it was too late!" - is marriage really like that. It should not be, it need not be.) Ongoing marriage begins and the wonderful sexual part of life - "Adam knew his wife" Gen 4:1 - this is not a shy word for sex, though sexual delight together is certainly included - nor is it just being 1 flesh (though that is vital). It is, however, much more; knowing & growing day by day in intimacy of soul and mind, and not just bodily excitement. This gives the lie to all casual ideas of sex, to polygamy, to extra-marital "affairs" (now there's a real euphemism!). How can you know more than 1 person at this amazingly intimate level? It is whole-of-life stuff.

When NOT then? - a cart before the horse seldom goes anywhere. Men - we need to guard our eyes & minds in this age when so much sexual imagery permeates the media - don't stir yourself up. Women - don't be like photographs, ruined by over-exposure - be beautiful flowers in God's garden, but not ripe, lusciously seductive fruit too soon.

Yet no Genesis 3 marriage is perfect - there will times of misunderstanding and strife - making up is hard, but absolutely vital - a second honeymoon will be needed (in fact, there should be many 2nd ones!)

A modern marriage is two fallen humans trying to love together in harmony - a very tough challenge. Many come unglued because they expect the New Year's Eve fireworks of Eros to continue for ever - they rarely do! It is a well observed medical fact, partly to do with our hormones. Well, let it go, so that it can be replaced with that more lasting and comfortable glow of the winter fire. Sparks can and should still fly at times, but (to change the metaphor) don't expect a diet of strawberries and cream - you need to move on to more sustaining and nourishing food. C.S. Lewis said it is as futile as trying to re-capture that first excitement of paddling in the sea as a child - you cannot - far better to go on and learn how to swim in the ocean!

Haven't I missed something? What of the 5th item - Salvation?

There is Nothing good that does not speak of God, who made all things good.

In the Old Testament Jehovah-God uses marriage as the likeness of God and His people, and man-to-woman 1-flesh love as an likeness of His own love for us. (isn't this then justification for treating the Song as an allegory? I do not think so. The allegory has got to clearly say what it is doing - that it is an allegory, or else some other part of the Bible has to clearly say this. Otherwise anyone can read back anything they like into any Scripture - why not say (as someone did) that the five husbands of the woman at the well of Samaria (in John ch. 5) represented the five books of the law of Moses, which can never liberate man, but only terrify and enslave unless the Holy Spirit gives us understanding of the gospel of grace in Jesus Christ. True, but you can't justify it from John 5.)

In the New Testament He goes even further. The church is the new Israel, and Christ is the husband - this is absolutely clear in Ephesians 5:22-33. And not only that, it works back the other way - "husbands love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself for her". See, here we have agape at work - the husband must "die" for his wife, giving to her his utmost. She also has some dying - "wives submit to your own husband, as to the Lord", honouring him in all things.

1 John 4:8 "God is Love". SoS 8:6-7 "love ... the very flame of the LORD"

A word to all

Some of you may never marry, for one reason or another. Considering the problems of marriage in a fallen world, Jesus' disciples said to Him, "it is better not to marry!" and some since have said the same. His reply was that it was given to some to not marry, and to some not to marry for the kingdom of God's sake (perhaps to serve God in some unusual and front-line way, as the apostle Paul did). It is not given to all - I think the correct implication is that most should seek to marry, but always with an understood "never the less, not what I will, but what You (God) will for me."

All of us will be single some of the time. We are not born married! Most of us who do marry will be single again one day, by accident, by death, by a broken marriage.

Do not be afraid - marriage and Eros are good, but not the best. The Best is yet to come. Jesus the King will never take any blessing from His people, except He replaces it with a better (John 10:10 - though we cannot see that Better yet - 1 Corinthians 2:9)

Francis Schaeffer on Love

"Modern man is deeply plagued by the question, 'Where do love and communication come from?' Many artists who pour themselves out in their paintings, who paint bleak messages on canvas, many singers, many poets and dramatists are expressing the blackness of the fact that while everything hangs on love and communication, they don't know where these come from and they don't know what they mean.
The biblical answer is quite otherwise: something was there before creation. God was there; love and communication were there; and therefore, prior even to Genesis 1:1, love and communication are intrinsic to what has always been." from "Genesis in Space and Time" - Francis A Schaeffer p12

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