Song of Solomon: The Beauty and Danger of God’s Good Gifts
The unblushing and vivid descriptions of romantic desire and sexuality may unsettle readers of the Song of Solomon (also known as the Song of Songs). The language and imagery and subject matter of this book of divinely inspired poetry are not what most of us expect to encounter when we approach the Word of God. There is talk of physical attraction and passion and intimacy and desire, all of which we might think should be foreign to the sacred pages of holy writ. So what is the Song of Songs doing in my Bible? What does sex and romance have to do with what God wants to teach me?
God is not ashamed of or embarrassed by sex. He created it as a good gift to be enjoyed as a part of his wise design. He made it for a purpose. It wasn’t a slip up or mistake that God made us the way we are. The goodness of romantic passion and sexual intimacy is clear throughout the poetry of the Song of Songs. The woman has a great desire and love for the man, and the man treasures and longs for the woman. They describe one another and their love for each other with rich imagery of a luscious garden and the bountiful abundance of God’s creation. There is great beauty and sweetness in the poetry found in the pages of this book of the Bible. The woman in 7:10 tenderly says: “I am my beloved’s, and his desire is for me.” A similar statement is repeated in 2:16 and 6:3; this highlights the wonder and loveliness of being committed to and loved by another person. Belonging to someone in love is a precious thing.
Even so, over and over again in the Song of Songs, the reader is offered an important warning about love in this refrain: “I adjure you, O daughters of Jerusalem, that you not stir up or awaken love until it pleases”
(Song of Songs 8:4).
The Song repeats similar words in 2:7 and 3:5. The writer surely wants us to understand the importance of proper timing and waiting when it comes to romantic desire. In a world that thinks and preaches that sex and romance are ultimate, this is controversial instruction. Many pursue sex without commitment and intimacy without loving loyalty. Others rush into relationships (and even into marriage) hoping to find quick satisfaction and fulfillment in romantic love. In the eyes of the world, sexual freedom is a right, romance is the aim of life, and the erotic is commonplace and profane and normal. Yet, the Song of Songs reminds us that romantic love and sexuality have their proper, God-designed context. Marriage is the only place for sexuality to truly flourish. God made sex to be enjoyed in the context of the committed relationship of marriage. The absence of waiting spoils the gift, distorts the purpose, and destroys relationships. Forcing love or intimacy without submitting to God’s plan only leads to heartbreak, disappointment, and unfulfilled desire. If we do not receive God’s gifts in the appropriate time and setting, we belittle the gift and dishonor the Giver. The gift is not the main thing; the God who gave it is. Therefore, he has the right to determine the right place and time for the blessings he bestows.
As the Song of Songs closes, it gives a sharp reminder of the danger and beauty that is found in romantic love:
“Set me as a seal upon your heart, as a seal upon your arm, for love is strong as death, jealousy is fierce as the grave. Its flashes are flashes of fire, the very flame of the Lord. Many waters cannot quench love, neither can floods drown it. If a man offered for love all the wealth of his house, he would be utterly despised.”
Love is intense and passionate and strong. It is fierce and fiery. In this striking language, there is a clear danger here. Love is like fire. It can be warm and useful and life-giving, but it can also destroy and hurt and burn with dangerous flames. Without the necessary boundaries and patience and commitment, many are hurt in the process.
So, the Song of Solomon lifts up the wonders and beauties of marital intimacy as a gracious gift of God. The book teaches us that we must not diminish or be embarrassed by sex because God created it as a good blessing, but we must also not elevate it or pervert it in such a way that ignores God’s protective design for such intense passion. This is no different than how we should respond to any other good blessing that God has given to us. It is amazing that God has designed our world in such a way that reflects his glory but also brings us joy as we behold his creativity and his graciousness. Yet, we can so easily abuse or take for granted the things that God meant for a specific purpose. Sex, money, food, work, pleasure, and so many other things are not inherently evil, but they can become incredibly destructive. When we trust God’s wisdom in receiving his good gifts on his terms, we increase our enjoyment in the gifts and in the one who gives us all good things.
We also are reminded that the commitment, love, and desire displayed so wonderfully in marriage was created by God to demonstrate his own covenant-keeping love for his people. Paul teaches us this in Ephesians 5:25-33: “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.”
The relationship between husband and wife ultimately point to Christ’s sacrificial love for the Church. This was God’s purpose even from the beginning, that we see Jesus more clearly through the drama of a loving, God-honoring marriage. God gives to us so many amazing things to enjoy on this earth, but we must never forget that those blessings are always designed to point us back to the living and true God, the one who satisfies every need and who loves with perfect love.