Song of Songs 1 , July 19th 2020.
Readings: Song of Songs chapters 1 & 2, also Matthew 19:4-6.
Lord, before your eyes, everything is uncovered and laid bare: speak your word – living and active, sharper than any double edged sword; let it penetrate our souls and spirits:
Examine our thoughts, and by your Holy Spirit renew the attitudes of our hearts, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.
‘’All the ages are not worth the day in which the Song of Songs was given to Israel: for all the writings are holy, but the Song of Songs is the Holy of Holies.’’ Rabbi Aqiba in AD 135, a complement of the highest order. The Song points us to how a person can respond to the attractiveness of another and fulfil the needs of another. ‘In most of the modern world, romance is thought as something that precedes marriage. In the Song, romance is something that should continue and actually characterize marriage.’’ (Fee and Stuart, How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth, p.230).
God created us, and through his creation, we have a good number of brain cells devoted to love and sex. Love and sex is a fact of being human, it is part of his – God’s design in creation – a design he declared ‘good’. ‘’God didn’t blow it when he created man and woman to need and love each other. He made our bodies to react like they do and our minds to be attracted like they are.’’ (Chap Clark, Youthwork Magazine 2006. P.18) Love and sex is to be a source of joy and blessing in a monogamous marriage. But it can also be a means for selfish gratification. Can someone choose to follow romance wherever it leads, regardless of the consequences? Absolutely. Can people engage in sex in ways that dishonor God? Certainly. Can romance be manipulative and cruel – Yes. Can there be an emphasis on physical techniques which displaces wrongly the tenderness of romance? Surely. (Thanks to Fee and Stuart for these questions – p.227). But it doesn’t need to be.
Over four Sundays we are going to explore the Song of Songs. The next two Sundays, then a break for two weeks, before returning.
Why did God put 8 chapters of love poetry in his Bible?! Have you read the Book – the poem, the love song – through before? Why not , as we did with Jonah, stop the recording and read the book through twice…
I will take the view that there is a simple storyline to the Song – chapters 1 and 2, a springtime romance, which leads to a wedding and honeymoon (chapters 3 and 4), and then problems, distance in the marriage and then healing, restoration, from chapters 5-8. Once we begin exploring, many themes will become apparent. I am very aware that there will be themes I will not cover which may seem important to the listener; we are restricted to our time and the fact that we will feel that frustration will show we see the richness of this book and will encourage you to do your own studying!
The Song is mainly concerned with: whom to love, and how to love, which are the 2 issues which are among the most basic choices in our lives, and ‘’ability to make godly choices with regard to these two crucial decisions, are vitally important to every believer, (Fee and Stuart, p226).
The poem focuses primarily on the relationship between two people. The lady speaks most of the lines in the love song. The identity of the male is unclear. And there are a group of friends – or ‘daughters of Jerusalem’. Many of the newer bible translations add speaker titles and that will help us greatly as we read along.
We remember the context the book was written for. God’s people are called to live, holy, godly lives – to live as a people in covenant with God. For a Hebrew the proper place for sexual activities was monogamous marriage. Unfaithfulness before or after marriage is the opposite of what the Song communicates. The poem points to how marriage consummates love between a man and woman, and marriage continues the love between a man and woman.
Verses 2-7. We hit the ground running. Already there is intense intimacy and how it is impossible to keep it to yourself. The woman passionately declares her love! The woman has seen a handsome shepherd and fallen in love with him. Her heart beats, her whole world is transformed. She longs for his kisses; she declares ‘for your love is more delightful than wine’ – the joy that wine brings she says, he brings more joy.
V4 ‘Draw me away with you’. She seeks greater intimacy. ‘Tell me, you whom I love, where you graze your flock’. She wants to be alone with him. Why should she be like a ‘veiled woman’ – this likely refers to for example Judah meets a veiled woman – thinking she is a prostitute. The lady does not want the other shepherds leering, at her, like they would for a prostitute. The man’s first words ‘my darling’. He praises her beauty. ‘How she is like a mare among stallions’, one who draws attention. She responds – she says he is a king for her – not a shepherd – someone of standing, honour, respect. How he is like a cluster of henna blossoms – from En Gedi – En Gedi, on western shore of the Dead Sea. All around it is bleak, but it is a beautiful oasis. He is something beautiful he is, treasured, unique… This is poetry than narrative.
There is banter, teasing, between the two, as we read into chapter 2. There is growing passion, love for each other. He dwells on her eyes and both look forward to the consummation of their love.
Intimacy. Earlier she said : ‘Let the king bring me into his chambers’ (1:4). Sexual desire is good and healthy, it is a beautiful gift from God. CS Lewis reminds us that pleasure is God’s idea, not the Devil. We are not meant to feel guilty about its enjoyment in its proper context – but what is the proper context? God’s design is that sex should cement the relationship of marriage. Marriage brings together the union that is not just physical or biological, but an emotional, psychological, spiritual and social. Sex doesn’t only express the union, it brings it about.
However, we may struggle. Rob Bell writes:
‘’You are not alone. Whatever you struggle with, whatever you have questions about, you are not alone. It doesn’t matter how dark it is, or how much shame or weakness or regret it involves – you are not alone. We have cravings, desires, and urges and temptations that can easily consume us and make us feel helpless in their presence. Some of the most comforting words in the universe are ‘me too’. That moment when you find out that your struggle, is also someone else’s struggle, that you are not alone and that others have been down the same road.’’ (Quoted by Nicky Gumbel, in the Jesus Lifestyle, p.70)
We are open and honest as we share our desires that we try to manage, the pressure we feel from others, our struggles and even our regrets. The Bible reminds us that sex can be restored – that Jesus died for you and me so we can make a fresh start in every area of our lives, including sex. If you struggle in this area, find someone of the same sex to talk with, someone you can pray with, someone you can be accountable to. This is a beautiful part of Christian community – we can be open, honest, and know nobody is going to judge us. We gain support, if we need to repent, we know God’s love and forgiveness.
The gift of sex is to be enjoyed to the full in the place of marriage. ‘For this reason, a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh. So they are no longer two but one. Therefore what God has joined together let no one separate.’’ (Matthew 19). Jesus tells us that it is not just love and sex that go together. Sex also goes together with long term commitment in marriage. Marriage is the public, responsible, expression of lifelong commitment. Without such a commitment, sex, in the eyes of the bible, is cheapened – it becomes a life uniting act, without a life uniting intention. The life uniting intention is shown by marriage alone. To be engaged is not enough – because engagements, can be broken. That is the idea of a period of engagement – you discern, if this is the person to grow old with and make that life long commitment to.
God’s intent for sexuality is an expression of love that demands that love be permanent. Yet often, the words used are – ‘we don’t need marriage to prove we are in love’. When we think this, it can mean – I can have all the benefits of marriage without the restrictions – we feel – of a public commitment.
‘’Until we are ready to say to my spouse, my world and my Lord, that I promise to put this person before every other agenda in my life, save my faith commitment, we are not ready to fully and freely express that love through sexual intimacy.’’ (Clark, p.20).
‘I am darkened by the sun’. The lady worries if she will not be attractive to the one she loves. Her sun darkened skin, indicates she is of a lower class – she works in the field – in contrast to the paler girls of Jerusalem. She compares to others. This is not new – we do compare ourselves so often with others. We feel different. The lady knows she is different.
So how is our loved one – spouse, boyfriend, fiancé – different from us? How is she or he different in culture – as many at All Saints have cross cultural relationships / marriages – different in class, different in background, in spiritual values, in passions, in personality. In personality are you similar or opposite. My wife Jolanda and I are opposite in personality, and it means it is challenging, something we need to keep working on and being aware of, and it is enriching…
So your loved one is different. Is that okay for you? You need to ask yourself that. Yes, we do change but the main thing here – that your loved one does not feel inadequate because you look down on him or her because of the difference.
The lady, modestly, humbly, at the start of chapter 2, she disparages her own attractiveness. ‘I am a rose of Sharon’. Sharon is a plain between the coast and the hills of Jaffa, and it’s not noted for any natural beauty. Rose of Sharon was as common a plant could be. But he defends her – she is a ‘lily among thorns / thistles’ – she stands out. She says she is ordinary. For him, she is outstanding. She says I am just this education, this family background, this culture, that approach to faith, this personality… Can you, say – no, you are –I really value and appreciate this and that… a lily among thorns,
But the Song is not sentimental. This is the first time we turns to what can threaten love’s young dream. V14. ‘Catch for us the foxes, the little foxes that ruin the vineyards, our vineyards that are in bloom’. Love can be threatened. The man says there are obstacles in the relationship.
What are the threats to your love at this moment?
What are the obstacles in your relationship?
It is possible time does not allow you to address them or chat about them – the coronavirus may have made things even heavier with work, family, church involvements. So you are aware of them but you move on and just manage them.
What are the obstacles or threats in your relationship – or in your marriage – which can or perhaps are ruining the vineyard. Is there a red light flashing on your dashboard?
Possible areas can be communication, conflict, shared goals and values, expectations, culture differences.
How to take this forward? Time. To talk in a relaxed unthreatened way. To discuss obstacles even threat does not mean the relationship is failing, it means you want it to go deeper, become richer. Perhaps to plug into a course – for married couples there is the Marriage Course, formed by the same church as Alpha. Or for couples in a serious relationship or are engaged, the Marriage Preparation Course.
What are the threats or obstacles at this time?
Our first chapters share about a couple in love, raises challenges and joys of intimacy, inadqueacy and threats and obstacles. These chapters celebrate the joy of touch, the ambience of love, the sounds and experiences of intimate relationships. We see genuine unselfish love. These two have eyes only for each other. Their mutual praise – it is eloquent, sincere. ‘’ This is not a passing attraction but a deep commitment. ‘My lover is mine and I am his until the day breaks and the shadows flee’.
Lord, give us hearts to love and wills to be faithful, so that our love on earth may reflect that in heaven.
The love we read in this Song, is youthful but we believe it does not need to be confined to the young. Your Grace OGod can renew our hearts with this kind of love even when many years have passed.
Lord, whose love gives us others to love and to love us, may our love for others in our life, in some way reflect your great love for us in Jesus Christ. Amen.