WARNING: The following material is intended for mature audiences. While this is a Bible study, the Song of Songs is written with references to sexual themes, intimate textual innuendos, and suggestive figurative language that may not be suitable for some audiences. Viewer discretion is advised. It is recommended that you approach this book from God with pure motives and pray that His will in preserving these song lyrics can be a blessing to you. It is advisable that if you have been enjoying this podcast with young ears present that you refrain from doing so at this time. Wait until you are in a private setting to continue. Thank you for taking this word of caution into consideration as we begin today’s episode.
The Challenges of Love in the Song of Songs As with any relationship, these lovers also experience the agonies that come with love. God knows that we have challenges in marriage, and in the process of seeking to be married, and much of the Song will address these matters that we all can relate to on a daily basis. We are speaking of such things as the pain of separation, the fear of loss, misunderstandings, tensions of insecure self-image, and even little quarrels and playful spats. We should see this book as a Song about the joys and tensions of a young couple on their progress toward marriage and the fulfillment of their love in marriage. One author when preaching on the Song said that the cycles of the book could be reduced to desire and difficulty. The Guide for Love and the Song of Songs One of the biggest mistakes that can be made with this Song, is that some try to use the lyrics like a manual for the sexual relationship or as a definition of human sexual intimacy. This Song is not a moral social tract but is rather a celebration of love in every dimension of an interaction between a man and a woman. The goal is not to read this book and then go home and try to force our spouse to be romantic by describing us from head to toe in some poetic way. The goal is not to question our spouse and their love for us because they don't like to share in the same love that the lovers in the Song explore. We are simply trying to wake up a passion for the pleasures of love in the hearts of those that study the Song. We will see that many metaphors are used to describe the actions that are related to sexual arousal and consummation. The way that you apply the book is to choose your own adventure with your spouse and know that wherever your relationship is today, that it could certainly be taken to new heights, new landscapes and it could get spiced up like never before. Carey Ellen Walsh states, "The eroticism in the Song zeroes in on desire that does not get relieved. It has the blunt, annoying force of shaking a reader awake, compelling us to feel our own desires, to ignite them." Marriage is a celebration of a prior love and a heart given long before. We are in essence saying in our ceremony, I am willing to give myself to you all ways and always. We are asking our lover to commit to answering these questions, "Will you be this body's only and last lover? Will you be with me in life until death? We live long enough to learn to love deeply and then we die. To live forever would have no purpose, for our destiny is to have our spirit return to the Lover of our souls where we will spend eternity in an everlasting spiritual romance. The love that we get to share in marriage on this earth is a beautiful mirroring of our final love life. The goal in marriage is to lead each other to that other world where we are no longer given in marriage but are forever in love with our Maker. Young Readers and the Song of Songs One caution that should be offered is for young readers who wonder how far they are to go in a relationship. Just because the Song is about the sexual arousal of two young lovers, this aspect of these lyrics must be seen as the climax of the non-physical words and actions that lead to this point (praising each other, going into the country together, quietly being in each other’s presence, etc.) It must be noted that their attachment to each other is not just for the purpose of physical pleasure or sex. They are social beings that enjoy interaction and companionship. This can be more difficult for the current generation to grasp because it seems that the only reason to enter a relationship, even among those that are still in middle school and high school, is to engage in some kind of premarital sexual encounter in order to have the status of no longer being a virgin. I assure you that this was not a desirable biblical trait. To enter into marriage as a pure chaste bride, was the greatest compliment. To be a man, that would respect a woman enough, that he would allow the relationship to grow and the passion to build until it was fully displayed in the marriage bed, is so uncommon today, but is the measure of a true man of God. For those us that were promiscuous outside of marriage, this message is not to shame you, but to motivate you to rethink how God views the sexual union of becoming one flesh. Every other sin committed by man is outside the body, but the sin of sexual immorality is against his own body. We must flee immorality if we want to be used as a temple for the Holy Spirit and acknowledge that we belong to the Lord, Jesus Christ. We are one spirit with the Lord and anyone who is with a woman outside of marriage is committing fornication and becomes one flesh with her apart from the covenant of marriage (I Corinthians 6:15-20). To this, we add the words of Ecclesiastes, taken from the New Living Translation for emphasis and clarity, "Young people, it's wonderful to be young! Enjoy every minute of it. Do everything you want to do; take it all in. But remember that you must give an account to God for everything you do" (Ecclesiastes 11:9). Walsh states, "Watching two people yearn to be with one another and not get together is heartbreaking, honest, and what much of life is given over to, the waiting and the hope. That is true of sexual desire, and all other kinds of desires in life, be they for a better life, more understanding, or less pain." Sexual Addiction and the Song of Songs Some cannot read this book without becoming aroused by its imagery and for those I offer this quote from Origen, “I advise everyone who is not yet rid of the vexations of the flesh and blood and has not ceased to feel the passions of this bodily nature, to refrain from reading the book and the things that will be said about it” He also said, “to allow no one even to hold this book in his hands, who has not reached a full and ripe age” The reason for this warning is because many of the images in the Song must be interpreted, and if someone has their mind "in the gutter", as the old saying goes, they could come away with more from the Song than what even God intended. If you find that the images that you are taking from the Song are too in-depth, even to the point of violating your conscience and going beyond sound teaching, step back and ask yourself, is this imagery that I see from God, or from a sexual perversion that I have welcomed into my life? Is this my own personal skewed understanding or is this truly God's revelation? One commentator when speaking of the metaphor of the “vineyard” said, “it may be taken literally, the place where grapes are cultivated; it may refer to the girl as a whole, in all her femininity; or it may have more explicit sexual references.” Carey Ellen Walsh added, "Grape tending is tricky, sensitive, ongoing work. The farmer has much to do and must be attentive to. If he does not act with care, consistency, love, and some luck thrown in for good measure, the resulting berries are little, hard, and sour..." She continues, "If however, he manages to cultivate the vines with care, those same grapes become dark, soft, juicy, yielding, and delicious, and are able to produce nectar worth drinking and fruit worth exploding in one's mouth". Before you feel that I am being insensitive to those that struggle with sexual addiction by using this imagery here, let me say that the point is that you cannot rush sex. Whether you are watching pornography and masturbating or trying to find sexual fulfillment outside of the pursuit and dedication required to find and marry a life mate, then you are going to spend the rest of your life eating sour underdeveloped fruit. Sex without true love is impoverished relations. Quite honestly, sour grapes that set your teeth on edge were designated as an analogy for those that choose to live in sin. If you cannot read this book for what is plainly stated and then allow the learning to be used to glorify God, it is not recommended that you continue to read any further. Diane Ackerman stated of this Song, that it is a "sensuous discipline, a voluptuous rigor that took patience and skill, and it weeded out anyone who just wanted quick sex." If you have an addiction to pornography and you are hoping to get some strange pleasure from reading this Song, then you have already approached the book with the wrong motive and impure intentions in your heart. We cannot make sex and our appetite our god but must serve God through sex. This requires that sex be used within His authority. Ayo states this idea by saying, "God is everything. He created something (sex). It is not God. That something (sex) never escapes the sacred everything that holds it in existence." The word for porn is "porneia" translated in the New Testament in texts where there is fornication or some unclean sexual imposition, such as incest or sexual abuse. While I believe that the Bible can heal wounds in our heart related to sexual woes, the Song of Songs should only be addressed with the pure goal of seeking God's original plan for the marriage bed as in Eden. Any other perversion that comes as a result of studying this book would result in twisting the word of God and perverting the Scriptures, which has grave consequences. God never intended for the way of a man with a woman to be viewed in this manner. We must realize that in the beginning, God made mankind, “male and female” (Gen. 1:27), and we are designed to be attracted to each other. Let us keep these sexual activities in their proper place in marriage. If the book becomes a struggle for you, pray that God will keep you from sin, but will allow you to see the main lessons that He intended from this Song. In some cases, it may be good for those that struggle to seek additional counsel and guidance before pursuing this study or even while in the process of the sessions. Foucault stated that in the West, the desire became something that we were to manage, dominate, and defeat. The sexual appetite then became something to control and if you could control it and forego fulfilling the desire then you were somehow elevated as virtuous. Losing control was a sign of being lazy and not having solidified oneself with reason. But the fact of the matter is that desire is out of our control, for it is instilled in us by God. The ultimate virtue is found not in controlling or defeating the feelings, but to seek the proper outlet for the force inside of us. The two lovers in the Song are not out for pleasure like hedonists nor are they neophytes that are looking to experience pleasure at any cost. They are not destined for trouble because they desire one another, but are courageously venturing into the world of desire that according to Walsh, "envelopes people, coloring and reorienting their world and their worldview. Augustine saw this risk as bad, but we must see it as a love that at first softens its boundaries as we start to let someone else in, but at the same time we are letting ourselves out. Augustine stated regarding the transcendence of desire that "So intense is the pleasure that when it reaches its climax, there is almost a total extinction of mental alertness." Again, there is a struggle for all lovers when desire is experienced. But the honing of our passions to the place where God directs is key to allowing yourself to feel while not letting down all guards and inhibitions toward an ungodly sexual approach, solely for selfish gain at the expense of another's loss. We must look for a mutually fulfilling love in marriage. Any sexual gratification outside of that context not only is offensive to God but aims to steal from others. While viewing pornography, visiting a prostitute or going to a strip club may seem like a viable outlet apart from marital love, the fact is that you have to wrestle with the issue that the woman or man that you are watching in the display before you are dealing with a sexual battle within themselves and you are supporting the cause. It is one thing to struggle with our own desires, but to then advocate or give hearty approval to others that battle this same issue in their own life, is a sin as great as participating in the act with them (Romans 1:32). While we can learn to put off our longings until the time is right, the goal is not to shut off desire. Desire is the ever-present unction that causes us to want to eat and drink, find joy, make friends, and even develop relationships. Again, desire is not the problem, but the proper outlet that we use is the matter at hand. Ask God to bless you with a clear picture of pure sexual desires. Pray with the woman in the Song and make an adjuration, "do not arouse or awaken love until it pleases.". Symbolism and Sexual Images in the Song of Songs We could spend some more time on other symbols that students have seen in the book (God and Israel, Christ and the church, or God and the believer). We will simply say that the allegories that are required for such a symbolic relationship go beyond the picture of Scripture as a whole. While we will point out a few examples that highlight the Divine relationship with us through spiritual love, this is not the primary interpretation that we will use to find connections to the sexual images in the Song. Even though Israel was pictured as a bride to God and the church the same to Christ etc., these pictures never involve the erotic love that we find in the Song of Songs. While some have pointed to scenes where God takes the virginity of Israel in making her a covenant partner as a point of proof that the symbolism is allowable for these sexual images to represent God and Israel, there is no proof that God continually has sexual encounters with His people. He used the language to stress the importance of faithfulness to the marriage bond that they had with the Lord as a part of the old covenant. When they would worship foreign gods, He called them harlots, unfaithful, adulterous, etc. The allegorist must be careful to maintain a secure basis in Scripture for the rendering of the reading that they base their position on. When a commentator starts talking about the lips of the girl being the law of Moses and gospel of Christ or her two breasts as Moses and Aaron, the typology becomes so exaggerated and unsupported by Scripture, that we open the Song to a vast world of private interpretation. This is dangerous and completely unwarranted! As stated earlier, the applications that we will make to our spiritual lives from this book will be within the scope that Paul allowed for us to see the mystery of the love of Christ for His people through the symbolism of the love shared in a marriage between a man and a woman (Ephesians 5:32). Michael Pearl said to this end, "If this was not meant to be a discussion of sexual pleasure, the author of the song should have flunked his writing class. Why seduce your audience with clear images of erotic pleasure if you want to lead their minds to something entirely different?" He continued, "If you have hang-ups about sex, you didn't get it from the Holy Spirit; you got it from a world that has never learned to handle something so wonderful and powerful as pure, heavenly eroticism." We have to remember that most of the time that sex is mentioned in the Bible, it is usually shrouded in some symbolic language. The first love scene in the Bible goes like this, Adam knew Eve (Genesis 4:1) Other pedestrian terms that are used include, to sleep with, to enter, or to come into. (See Genesis 16:2; 30:15) While the symbols in the Song of Songs are poetically mystified, the images are clear enough that we can at least see what is occurring between the two lovers in the lyrics. Outside of this one book in the Bible, we are left to scenes that provide no guidance about desire, pleasure, or the emotional state of the people involved. Carey Ellen Walsh adds, "Since the Western world had been so influenced by Christian notions about sex, it is only good faith to read the Song in its own context." She continues, "It deserves a hearing cleared of our hang-ups, sexual and religious, to sound its full potency." She also shared, "Given the taciturn nature of other biblical materials on sex, the Song is startling, refreshing, even flamboyant...For anyone who still has a pulse, the eroticism is too palpable to ignore" The Canon of Scripture and the Song of Songs Let’s mention the concern of some scholars about this book finding a place in the Canon of Scripture. Believe it or not, the Song has always been included in the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures. Those who question its place there, usually do so on the basis of faulty arguments (ex. God is not mentioned in the book [see SOS 8:6], the song is like other ancient love poetry from foreign countries that were idolatrous, etc.) Some say that God's absence gives the book a secular feel and it appears very carnal in nature with its sexual imagery. Even those who question the book, must ask, “should it remain in the Canon?”, and not, “Should it be included in the Canon?” Rabbi Aquiba, whom we mentioned earlier, also said, “For in the entire world, there is nothing to equal the day on which the Song of Solomon was given to Israel. All the writings are holy, but the Song of Songs is most Holy.” Granted, the view taken by Rabbi Aquiba would be of the allegorical approach, but I would echo his words even when taking the analogous or literal approach. The difference is that the allegorical is a story that has two meanings. The actual reading is not real and yet holds symbolism that is to be uncovered that is much deeper than what you read on the surface. The analogy or literal view is a comparison between two things that do not necessarily tell a specific story with real people, places, and things, but illustrates the nature of something in the context. Here in the Song of Songs, we do not have a true story unfolding between two historical figures, but we have lyrics that compare the way that God portrays how human love should be, with the way that a man and a woman interact and share love in real life. While some scholars can argue that this book was never intended to be in the Canon of Scripture, we must note that there were other books written in the inter-testamental period in Greek called the Odes of Solomon and the Wisdom of Solomon which have not been included in the Canon. John Waddey said, “God placed it (the book) in the canon to teach the purity and sanctity of marriage as He ordained it in Eden. Thus it is a veiled protest against polygamy.” I would also add that it is a clear protest against homosexuality or any other form of sexual sin that is forbidden by God. Just as the old adage states, God made Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve. We can also look to the Song of Songs to see clearly that the Song is about love that is shared only between a man and a woman. Nowhere do we get the impression that this same relationship could be shared between two men or two women (See Romans 1:26-28). If Freud was correct in his observation that desire drives most of what we do, or even all that we do, then having a book from God, in the Song of Songs, that helps us to know how to fulfill our desires, is a much-needed book in the Canon of Scripture. The Inspiration of the Song of Songs Some wonder about the secular aspects of the book and ask, can a book be inspired and never mention God? This question has also been asked of the book of Esther and yet in both accounts, you see God's providence and presence in every scene. What if we rather considered creation and why God put us here on the earth? Mankind has the role of cultivating the land and taking care of it. Man has dominion over all other created beings to which Adam gave names. Everything that man desired was in the Garden of Eden. The only issue was that man did not have someone to share life with on this earth. God made woman to be a helper suitable for the man. He encouraged them to love each other and become one flesh. This would help them to enjoy their union and be fruitful and multiply so that future generations could enjoy this love relationship as well. This is a Divine institution known as marriage. In the Song then, we have an expression of God’s goodness in creating humankind in its complementary sexes. When we study the book, we should be able to see that God has left for us one beautiful example in song lyrics of what a sexual relationship can be like, even in the finest details. He certainly wants us to know from Scripture that sex in marriage and the courtship and arousal that leads to it, is a beautiful expression and must not be avoided or viewed as an indecent activity between a man and a woman that He created for love. Sex and the Song of Songs The Song is not directly about sex and neither should marriage be driven by this one activity. The lyrics are about the yearning and personal desires for intimacy but are not about reaching the end in fulfilled love. Carey Ellen Walsh said, "Not having this couple consummate is the point and the power of this book. We get to see the longings but the shade is drawn on the actual climactic portion of each scene. We struggle with sexual intimacy and even the approach of this book primarily because of how we were raised in Western culture. Most of us get the impression growing up that sex is bad. Our birds and bees talk went something like, "Don't have sex because it is wrong!" Our understanding of sexual behavior is that it is sinful. When a young man or woman approaches marriage and they have this notion that sex if dirty, wrong or bad, they feel guilty about even enjoying that wonderful union together after saying, "I do", and they despise the gift of love. We need to spend more time explaining that sex is good. Sex is a God thing! As a matter of fact, sex is great because of its Divine origin! The issue is making sure that we do not awaken love before it pleases. We must express that God's view of lovemaking, which reaches its pinnacle in sexual intimacy, is not just natural, but spiritual, perhaps supernatural, and that it must be preserved for the marriage bed only. When a man and his wife enter into sexual intimacy it is out of obeisance for God in following a Divine decree. The sexual union then becomes a form of worship because it is a reflection of our respectful obedience to God who made us to fulfill these longings within the confines of marriage. The exact opposite would be true of those that choose to enter into either fornication or adulterous relations since these acts are in direct disobedience and show a lack of reverence for God. As parents and teachers of Bible classes, we have to do a better job of giving God's wisdom on this subject rather than labeling lovemaking as a sin and expecting our young people to grow up in the Lord with a proper appreciation for the sexual union. This book from God is without question a part of Divine revelation, for it is the only book wherein we see the heavenly perspective on the relationship to be shared between a man and woman in love. Without its lyrics, we would be left to think that sex if merely for procreation and that we, like the animal species, are simply seeking to replenish our kind. Let us be clear, that in this Song there is no mention of children anywhere. Sex is first and foremost for the enjoyment of a couple that is married before God. Children are the natural result of couples making love (plowing and planting seed), but producing children is not the original purpose behind becoming one flesh. It is a process wherein the woman is joining her flesh to the man from which she was taken. I love the illustration that Michael Pearl gave when he said, "If our lives were music, sex would be the crescendo. The musical piece has many gentle and soothing moments but it builds to a dynamic climax when every instrument joins together to celebrate the entire evening. Applause follows, and the musicians are left drained, but satisfied. Likewise, foreplay and copulation are satisfactory conclusions to the experience of two people living daily in harmony. Without the song, the crescendo would mean little, for it would be out of context." Wisdom Literature and the Song of Songs The Song of Songs has been lumped together with what is called, “wisdom literature”. The other books with it are Proverbs, Job, Ecclesiastes, and even a few of the Psalms. Just as Job explores the subject of pain, and Ecclesiastes the purpose of life, so the Song of Songs, the passions and pleasures of human love. The Structure of the Song of Songs The Song has a unity, while also being split into what seems to be many fragments of information. Some have even said that there could have been 6 to 30 different parts to this entire book. Others have speculated in saying that this is not just one song but a collection of ancient Hebrew song lyrics that in their own respective charts are independent of one another. It is proven though, that no matter what view is held, this book describes biblical love while going back and forth discussing different aspects of the relationship between a man and a woman. Michael Fox said it best when he described the book and the structure of the book as "a gem of many facets, a meandering river with a different vista around every bend." As the book has many cycles, there are also mixed patterns within each cycle. We will see forms of tension or frustration, affirmations of praise and beauty, invitations or movements to intimacy and full consummation. Every cycle ends with something intimate (real or imagined). Karl Barth called the book the "Magna Carta of humanity". KEY VERSE : SOS 8:7 KEY WORD : “love” KEY CONCEPT : the beauty of one man and one woman in marriage KEY PERSONS : the man (known as Solomon), the lovely country girl, Shulammith KEY DATE: most likely written between 970-950 B.C depending on authorship. I want to close the preface of our introduction with a quote from Carey Ellen Walsh, where she stated, "When the Song is finished with us (and not we with it), we have to come to empathize with these people caught by want."