This is now the fifth week we’ve spent in the Song of Songs. You’ll remember that the phrase Song of Songs means that this is the best song, the greatest song, the superlative song. And this superlative song is about love.
I said before that some commentators hold to a three-person interpretation. That is, they say there are three main characters in the song: there’s the woman and there’s King Solomon who wants to add the woman to his harem in Jerusalem where she will live a life of luxury, but where she’ll only ever be one wife among many. And then there’s the woman’s true love, a shepherd from the country. He’s not rich or famous; he’s not powerful or influential like Solomon. But he loves the woman deeply. So, will she choose a life of luxury in the palace or will she remain with her shepherd?
So, a number of commentators hold to that interpretation. I prefer to side with those who stick to the more traditional two-person interpretation. So, there’s the woman and there’s her lover, who is probably King Solomon. And these two people love one another deeply. And in the course of the song they praise one another and it’s clear that they delight in one another.
And then I’ve also said before that there are different ways to interpret the Song of Songs. There’s the allegorical interpretation: all the things we read in the song symbolise something about the Lord and our relationship to him. There’s the typological interpretation: the love between the man and woman point beyond themselves to the love which exists between Christ and his church. There’s the natural interpretation: this is a book about human love; and that’s all it is. And why shouldn’t there be a book about love in the Bible, since God made us male and female and he gave us marriage for our benefit? And then there’s the eschatological interpretation which is also known as the redemptive-historical interpretation. It’s about seeing how each Bible text fits in with the whole history of redemption, which began in the Garden of Eden and which will end in the new heavens and earth. And the way this man and woman in the Song of Songs love one another recalls the way things were in the beginning when Adam and Eve lived together in the Garden and they were naked and felt no shame. And it anticipates the way things will be in the new and better world to come, where we won’t be married, but we won’t be on our own, because all of God’s people will be together and we’ll love one another perfectly and we’ll love the Saviour perfectly and forever.
So, there are different ways to interpret this song; and all of them are helpful to one degree or another, although I tend to favour the eschatological approach. But the fact that there are so many ways to interpret the book means that is is a hard book to understand.
Having said that by way of an introduction, let’s turn to this week’s passage.
And it begins in 5:2 with the woman and she’s alone in bed. But her lover is outside, knocking at the door. And he calls to her from outside:
Open to me, my sister….
We’ve seen before that it was normal in those days for a husband to refer to his wife as his sister; and it was a term of endearment. And he goes on to use other terms of endearment: my darling, my dove (which is like a pet name for her), my flawless one. So, open the door and let me in.
But instead of jumping out of bed and letting him into the room, she hesitates. I’ve taken off my robe. I’ve washed my feet. I’m already in bed. I don’t want to get up again. Back in chapter 2, he came to her when she was in a house; and he invited her to come away with him. And at that time, she dropped everything and went with him. But now she can’t be bothered. Has she become indifferent to him? Does she now take him for granted? Once she was excited to see him, but now she’d rather stay in bed and sleep.
According to verse 4, he thrust his hand through the latch-opening in the door. And at last her heart began to pound for him. And so, she jumped out of bed and opened the door for her lover. But she’s too late. He’s gone. She mentions that her fingers flowed with myrrh. The commentators think that when he thrust his hand through the latch-opening, it was to leave this expensive perfume on the door handle as a kind of gift for her. So, even though she was reluctant to get out of bed for him, he still loves her and has left her a love token.
But now he’s gone and her heart sank. She went out to look for him, but she couldn’t find him. Where has he gone? Back in chapter 3, she went out in the night to look for him. At that time, the watchmen helped. This time they beat her. And in verse 8 she turned to the daughters of Jerusalem, this group of maidens who appear from time to time in the song, and she asked them to let her lover know that she is love sick for him.
They respond by asking her what makes her lover so special? How is your beloved better than others? And in verses 10 to 16, she describes him. And once again, it’s clear that she delights in him. He is radiant and ruddy, outstanding among ten thousand. She describes his head and his black, wavy hair. She describes his eyes and cheeks and lips and arms and his body and legs. His appearance is like Lebanon which was famous for its tall cedars. So, her lover is tall and strong. He’s tall, dark and handsome. His mouth is sweetness itself. She might be referring to his words or to his kisses. Whichever it is, they delight her. And not only is he her lover, but he’s also her friend. And so, for a moment, she took him for granted and she couldn’t be bothered to get up for him. But then she remembered how wonderful he is.
And according to 6:1 the daughters of Jerusalem are willing to help her find her lover. Which way did he turn that we may look for him with you? And she replies that he’s gone down to his garden, to browse in it and to gather lilies. Previously he described her as a garden, but this time she probably referring to a real garden. Somehow she knows that this is where he has gone to wait for her. And look, although she was once reluctant to get out of bed for him, now she declares:
I am my lover’s and my lover is mine.
I’ve mentioned before that when a couple are married, they promise to take one another from this day forward. Forsaking all others, they now belong to one another and they belong together. And so, she won’t remain separated from him, but will go to meet him among the lilies.
And when she meets him, he begins to praise her again. So, look at verse 4 of chapter 6. You are beautiful, my darling. And he likens her to Tirzah and Jerusalem, two cities known for their beauty. And he asks her to look away from him, because he’s overwhelmed by her. One look from her makes him weak at the knees. And he again describes her: her hair and teeth, her head and cheeks. He refers to all the queens and concubines and virgins beyond number. But she’s the best: his dove, his perfect one. And the friends, the daughters of Jerusalem, compare her to the moon and the sun, which light up the sky.
The NIV suggests that verse 11 is spoken by the lover, that is, by the man. However, other English translations suggest that these are the words of the beloved, the woman. She’s gone down to the grove of nut trees. That is, she’s gone down to the garden to see the new growth and to see if the vines have budded and if the pomegranates are in bloom. The commentators think she’s referring to their love for one another. Has it withered? Or is their love for one growing and flourishing and blossoming? And it’s clear — isn’t it? — that their love is as strong as ever. So, she refers to her desire for him in verse 12. And in verses 1 to 9 of chapter 7 he again praises her beauty. He refers to her sandalled feet and her legs and naval and waist and breasts and neck and eyes and nose and head and hair. He is completely enraptured by her and so he declares in verse 6:
How beautiful you are and how pleasing….
Everything about her delights him. In verse 9, he compares her mouth to the best wine. He’s thinking about her kisses. And she responds by saying:
May the wine go straight to my lover.
So, all her kisses are for him and for him alone. I belong to my lover, she says in verse 10, and his desire is for me. In the beginning, after Adam and Eve disobeyed the Lord, the Lord referred to the constant battle which would exist between men and women because of the fall. To the woman, God said:
Your desire will be for your husband,
and he will rule over you.
And he meant that she will desire to rule over his husband, but he will rule over her. So, they would be in conflict with one another. But the desire we read about here in Song of Songs is completely different, isn’t it? They desire to be with one another and to love one another. She invites him to come with her to the countryside and to spend the night in the villages and to walk among the vineyards and to see the blossoms and to smell the mandrakes. Mandrakes were symbols of love and fertility; and so, she’s inviting him to come with her and to take delight in her. Their love and desire have not withered, but are blossoming.
And then in 8:1 she wishes that he were her brother. It seems a strange thought to us, but what she means is that she would then be free to kiss him in public and no one would take offence. And she thinks of how she would lead him like a little brother into their mother’s house and there she would give him something to eat and drink. She’s again referring to the way they delight in one another and take pleasure in one another. Indeed, his left arm is under her head and his right arm embraces her.
So, at the beginning of this section, she was reluctant to get out of bed for him. I’m dressed for bed. I can’t be bothered to get up. But at the end of the passage, he’s holding her. And once again she advises the maidens, the daughters of Jerusalem, not to arouse or awaken love until it so desires. She has found true love, because the man and woman love one another deeply and completely. But don’t rush it. Don’t force it. Let it come in its own time.
The Song of Songs is part of what we call the Wisdom Literature in the Bible. The Wisdom Literature is about being wise and it’s about living according to God’s wisdom and not according to the wisdom of the world, which is folly. And so, God has given us the Song of Songs to teach us how to be wise about love and romance. And today’s passage therefore warns us about taking one another for granted. This is especially true for husbands and wives, but it applies to all of us in all of our relationships. Though we’re meant to love one another, it’s very easy for us to forget about others and to put ourselves first. Instead of loving and serving one another, we become indifferent to the needs of others and we can’t be bothered to do anything for them. This apathy can infect all our relationships and it can happen in a marriage, when the couple are just so used to one another that they take each other for granted. In chapter 2, the woman was delighted when the man came and invited her to come away with him. But in chapter 5, she can’t be bothered to get out of bed for him. But God calls us to love one another always and when a couple are married they promise to be loving to one another until separated by death. And the good news is that Christ the Saviour gives us his Spirit to help us to love one another. He gives his Spirit to love one another in the church and he gives us his Spirit to help married couples to love one another as they should, loving and serving one another always.
Those who interpret the Song of Songs typologically see in this passage a warning to believers to renew their love for the Lord if it has grown cold. Perhaps there was a time in your life when you were on fire for the Lord and were prepared to do anything for him. But now your love has grown cold and your zeal has waned and perhaps you just can’t be bothered anymore. And so, if that has happened to you, then you need to wake up and shake yourself out of your spiritual slumber and renew your love for the Lord by remembering his perfections and all that he has done for you.
But then, when we think of the two of them in their garden together and how they looked at one another and loved one another and delighted in one another without any sense of shame or embarrassment, we can’t help thinking that this is what it was like for Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden before the fall. They were made for one another and they belonged to one another. And without sin to spoil things, their time together was perfect. And we wish it were still like that, but we know it isn’t, because we’re born into this world as sinners and we sin continually against the people we love the most as well as against everyone else. And so, we become indifferent to one another. And put ourselves first. And we are forgetful. And we can’t be bothered. Instead of praising one another, as the man and woman praised one another in the song, we criticise one another and complain. We’re sinners who need a Saviour.
But the good news is that God did not leave us in our sin and misery, but he sent his Son to deliver us and to give the forgiveness of sins and the hope of everlasting life in the world to come, where we will be made perfect.
And so, when we read of the way this man and woman went into the Eden-like garden to renew their love for each other, it recalls life before the fall in the Garden of Eden, and it makes us long for the world to come. And it makes us thankful to God for giving us his Son who loved us and who gave himself for us to deliver us from our sin and misery and to bring us into his presence in glory.