Someone asks in verse 5:
Who is this coming up from the desert leaning on her lover?
And the answer, of course, is that it’s the woman. And she’s the next person to speak; and she addresses her beloved, the love of her life, who is with her. So, we’re to imagine the two of them, walking together, arm in arm. And, as lovers do, they talk about their past and their memories of things they did together. So, she asks him if he remembers the time when they were under the apple tree and she roused him. We’ve noticed before how much of what happens in the Song of Songs happens in the countryside and in an Eden-like garden. And so, perhaps he had fallen asleep one day when they were together in the garden; and she had to waken him.
It’s not clear why she goes on to refer to the tree as the place where his mother conceived and bore her, although one commentator suggests that people in the ancient world believed that where you were conceived determined what you would be like. And so, if this man was conceived under an apple tree, then he would share some of the characteristics of an apple tree. Therefore, he would be tall and strong like a tree and sweet like an apple. And, in fact, the woman compared her beloved to an apple tree back in chapter 2. She said she delighted to sit in his shade and his fruit was sweet to her taste. In other words, he provided her with protection and everything about him was pleasant to her. So, perhaps that’s the meaning of verse 5: he was conceived under an apple tree and therefore he can be compared to a strong and sweet apple tree. And under an apple tree in their Eden-like garden, she wakened him from his sleep.
And in verse 6 she asks him to place her like a seal over his heart. In those days seals were made of metal and precious stones and people used them to mark their possessions and to seal contracts and other agreements which they might make. And so, it was important that you didn’t lose your seal, or give it away to anyone else, because it identified your possessions and it verified your words. And so, since it was important that you didn’t lose your seal, people tended to wear them around the neck like a necklace. And so, by asking her beloved to wear her like a seal, she’s saying to him: Don’t ever lose me. And don’t ever give me away. And since she mentions his heart, then she wants him to keep her close to his heart. So, she wants him to love and keep her forever.
And she goes on to say that love is as strong as death and its jealousy is as unyielding as the grave. We regard jealousy as something bad. And so, if you’re using an NIV Bible, you’ll see the footnote beside the word ‘jealousy’ in verse 6 which suggests that the word can also be translated ‘ardour’. And so, she’s taking about passionate love. Wholehearted love. And just as the grave will never give up the dead, so they will never give up one another and they will never stop loving one another. True love will continue to burn like a red-hot, blazing fire. A fire in the fireplace may go out, and the coals will grow cold, but their love will not go out. It will blaze like a mighty flame which cannot be extinguished. A fire can be put out if you pour water over it. So, if a house is on fire, call the fire brigade who will put the fire out with their water hoses. But many waters will not quench their love for one another and a flowing river will not be able to wash it away. Maybe she’s referring to the troubles and trials of life which can put a strain on any marriage. But she’s confident with whatever troubles they may face, their love for each other will not be destroyed. And in the last lines of verse 7 she tells us that true love is priceless. It’s better than all the riches in the world.
So, in verses 5 to 7, we’re to imagine the man and woman, walking and talking together, remembering that time when she woke him under the tree and talking about their love for one another and how precious it is to them.
Verses 8 to 14
And then some other people speak. And they say that they have a young sister, who is still young and she’s not yet ready for marriage. And they ask what will they do for her while they wait for the right time for her to be married. So, having overheard the man and women talk about their love for one another, and about how true love is so precious, what can they do to protect their young sister until she’s ready for marriage? Well, if she’s a wall, they will builds towers of silver on her. But if she’s a door, they will enclose her with panels of cedar. What’s the difference between a wall and a door? A wall prevents access whereas a door provides access. And so, what will their little sister be like? As she grows up and as she reaches the age for marriage, there will be lots of men who will show an interest in her. Some will be suitable and some will be unsuitable. If she’s like a wall, and keeps out those who are unsuitable, and if she waits patiently for the right person, then they will honour her with silver. They might be referring to the dowry which the bride’s family would provide in those days. But if she’s like a door, which is open to all-comers, then they’ll have to take action to protect her until the right person comes along.
And the woman hears what these people say about their little sister, and she tells them that she’s a wall and her breasts are like towers. She might be referring to the past. So, when she was young, she was a wall and not a door. She waited for the right person. Or perhaps she’s referring to the way she is now. Now that she’s an adult, and is married, she’s a wall to all other men. And while the NIV says that she has become one who brings contentment, other English translations say she has found contentment. And so, she was careful to wait for the right person. And now that she’s found him, she has found contentment and peace.
She goes on to say in verse 11 that Solomon had a vineyard, which he let out to tenant farmers. So, they would pay the rent and keep for themselves whatever fruit the land produced. But then the woman has a vineyard of her own which she wants to give to Solomon. But instead of charging him for it, she’s prepared to let him have it for free. And so, he can keep his thousand shekels and enjoy the fruit from her vineyard for free. However, she’s not really talking about a vineyard, is she? She’s referring to herself. She’s the vineyard and she’s willing to give herself to Solomon without charge. It’s not clear, but when she refers to the two hundred shekels for those who tend to its fruit, she’s perhaps referring to her family who deserve to be rewarded for bringing her up.
And then the man speaks to his beloved wife. He says that she dwells in the garden and her friends are with her. But he wants to be alone with her and to hear her voice.
And she turns to him and invites him to come away with her. Be like a gazelle once again. Be like a young stage again. Just as you once came bounding over the mountains to be with me, let’s run away together to be alone. And so, as one of the commentators says, the story ends with the couple riding off into the sunset, to experience the joy and happiness given by God.
I’ve said before that the Song of Songs is part of the Bible’s Wisdom Literature which God has given us to teach us to be wise and to live according to God’s wisdom, rather than according to the wisdom of the world. And so, God has given us the Song of Songs to teach us to be wise about love and romance. And throughout the song, the woman has advised the maidens, the daughters of Jerusalem, not to arouse or awaken love until it so desires. In other words, don’t rush it. Don’t force it. Let it come into its own time. So, she’s been describing her love for her beloved and his love for her, and this ideal match which brings them so much pleasure and joy. But she wants to tell her friends to be patient and not to rush into it. And in today’s passage, we read about a little sister whose family are watching over her when she’s young to protect her in case she opens the door to someone unsuitable and ends up in an unhappy relationship. So, there’s advice for parents to keep watch over your children to keep them from making foolish decisions when it comes to love. The beloved woman in our story found contentment; and that’s what we want for our young people, isn’t it? A life of contentment and not a life of sorrow and regret.
Those who interpret the Song of Songs typologically and say that that the love between this man and his beloved speaks to us of Christ’s love for the church make much of what the beloved says in verse 6 and 7 about the nature of true love and how it’s as strong as death and it’s as unyielding as the grave. Just as the grave will never give up the dead, so Christ will never give up his people whom he loves. Just as true love burns like blazing fire, so Christ’s love for his church will never grow cold, because it’s from everlasting to everlasting. Just as many waters cannot extinguish true love, so Christ’s everlasting love for his people will never be extinguished. Indeed, nothing will ever separate us from God’s love for us in Christ Jesus. And the God who loves his church with an everlasting love calls his people to love him in return. Just as the woman in the Song of Songs loved her husband and never dreamed of leaving him, and was prepared to give herself to him, so we’re to love the Lord and we’re to remain faithful to him always and we’re to serve him and him alone.
However, since we live in a fallen world and since we’re sinners who sin against the Lord continually, we don’t love the Lord the way that we should. Whereas his love for us can never be extinguished and is always a blazing fire, our love for him is changeable and it comes and goes. And because we know this is true, we know we have to come before God again and again to confess our sins and our shortcomings and to confess that we’re so often unfaithful to Christ our Bridegroom and we go astray from him and we don’t love him as we should, but we put other things before him. And we confess our sins with sorrow, because we don’t want to be like this and we want to love him more.
And in the Song of Songs — in this love song about the perfect love of this man and woman — we glimpse the way things will be in the future when all of God’s people who make up the church will be presented to him as a radiant bride, without stain or wrinkle or any other moral blemish. And we’ll live together forever in the new heavens and earth, where there will be no more sin or sorrow and nothing to spoil our love for him. And so, we’ll be able to love him perfectly, the way that we should. And we’ll rejoice in his love for us. And we’ll be with him with him forever in a perfect and glorious and everlasting union.
And so, as we read about the man and the woman in the Song of Songs, living together in their Eden-like garden, God is revealing to us something of what it will be like in the garden of glory to come. And so, we pray, Come, Lord Jesus. Come.