What a song it is! What a beautiful poem of love between a man and a woman! The Song of Solomon is so unabashedly erotic that most people don’t know what to do with it – and that is a shame. One simply doesn’t hear of churches teaching the book, supposedly because people are embarrassed by its sexual language and possibly because its purpose in the library of inspired literature is not understood.
Much of the avoidance of the Song of Solomon may be traced to something we wrote about (here and here) a few days ago – the holdover ideas of dualistic Greek philosophy and the false religion of the Gnostics. From the influence of these sources, what has passed for the Christian religion for many years has believed and taught that the intimate relationship between a man and a woman was shameful or dirty. Some taught that the only purpose of sex was for procreation and that if engaged in for pleasure or as an expression of love by a husband and wife it was sinful. Such religious groups as the Shakers, who flourished for a while in the nineteenth century, while not forbidding marriage, did forbid intimate relations between a husband and a wife. No wonder they “went out of business!”
This concept led some to propose that the Song of Solomon was an allegory of Christ and his love for the church and the love of the church for Christ. Bibles even included that description at the beginning of the book. Most of the older Bible commentaries set forth this view as does the Pulpit Commentary published in 1887; “The ‘kisses’ (1:2), must be interpreted in a figurative sense, or the sacred character of the whole book must be removed.” It just couldn’t mean what it sounds like it says! It has to have a deeper spiritual meaning! This same misunderstanding led to much of the Bible being considered as allegory. People just couldn’t accept the idea that if the obvious reading made sense they should seek no other sense.
But why should the Creator of man not also teach us of the joy of love between a man and a woman including the beauty of the sexual relationship? God made us to live a life of love and joy. He gave us our sexual natures so that we might experience some of the deepest, purest, most exuberant love and joy we are capable of experiencing. He gave this wonderful gift to secure the bond of a man and woman in a lifetime of mutual, pleasurable, joyous commitment – in some way like the relationship that exists in heaven.
The poem itself is remarkable. The chief speaker is the woman. In the story of love that is unfolded, she takes the lead, pursuing her loved one. There is between them a mutual appreciation and admiration of the bodies of each other and expression of the pleasure of the touch and embrace of one by the other. When they are apart she dreams of him. The language in which the poem is written is exquisitely erotic, yet not prurient as is so much of the erotic literature of human authorship.
Admittedly, some of the figures used by the characters in the poem about one another do not sound very complimentary by today’s standards. Who today would dare to say to his beloved, “I compare you, my love, to a mare among Pharaoh’s chariots”? (1:9). I wouldn’t exactly advise a man to compliment his lady with…
“Your hair is like a flock of goats
leaping down the slopes of Gilead.
Your teeth are like a flock of shorn ewes…” (4:2).
Obviously their idea of what constituted a compliment was slightly different from ours in the 21st century! But, like the saying goes, “It’s the thought that counts,” I suppose. Seriously, though, Solomon would have known about the horses that pulled Pharaoh’s chariot – no doubt of the best bloodline and in splendidly bejeweled harness. To compare a woman to a mare in the team that pulled the ruler of mighty Egypt wouldn’t have been that bad of a compliment – if she were a horse lover!
In the poem, the lovers were attentive to each other, continually giving the other compliments. He tells her…
“Behold, you are beautiful, my love;
behold, you are beautiful”
and she comes right back with…
“Behold, you are beautiful, my beloved, truly delightful.” (1:15-16).
Or replace that “behold” with our way of expressing awe and wonder…
“WOW!” you are beautiful!”
“WOW!” you are handsome!”
Two people who truly love each other do not have to search for words to tell the other how they see them. They are free with their compliments and offer them sincerely. I wonder, among couples who complain that the “magic” has gone out of their relationship, how often do they even say a kind word to the other, much less offer a sincere, genuine appreciative compliment?
Not all of Solomon’s wisdom concerning love between a man and a woman is found in the Song. In Proverbs 5:18-20 again in very erotic language he advises faithfulness in marriage.
“Let your fountain be blessed,
and rejoice in the wife of your youth,
a lovely deer, a graceful doe.
Let her breasts fill you at all times with delight;
be intoxicated always in her love.
Why should you be intoxicated, my son, with a forbidden woman
and embrace the bosom of an adulteress?”
That is some powerful advice! God made us for a committed relationship and not for a series of casual ones. The marriage relationship in its most intimate sense is intended to draw and keep a man and a woman together. When they are, as it might be said in a more common way of expressing it – totally “gone” on each other – and maintain that fascination with one another, they will find no reason to go “looking for love in all the wrong places.” It was rather ironic that Solomon would give this advice. He had 300 wives and 700 concubines! But I suppose he was speaking from experience! “Don’t do as I do, do as I say!”
Just as the couple in the Song were attentive to one another, so must couples today continue to be attentive, admiring and complimentary of each other. We can’t become negligent of one another. Romantic love must be cultivated like a tender plant that must be lovingly and tenderly cared for, watered and fed. When some problem arises, the time to deal with it is now. Problems will arise in every marriage, and they must be dealt with with the same kind of attentiveness to one another and with the same diligence with which each pursued the other in their courtship.
And never, never, never forget to tell your loved one how much you love them! Often! When it is said sincerely “I love you” never loses its meaning.