“Righteous Romance”
Song of Songs 1:1,7-8,15–2:3,15;4:9-12

 

 

Tom J. Nettles

 

This extended poem about the physical delight, the complete absorption of all the senses in the contemplation and consummation of sexual desire in married love helps us understand why the preeminent human relationship is that of husband and wife. It contains an idealization of concentrated love and affection surrounding a wedding as Solomon envisioned it should be, a paradigm of courting and marital emotion and devotion that apparently he never achieved. It puts in context the warnings of Proverbs about the enticement and danger of an unwarranted sexuality. The married relationship was initially established in Eden in the unfallen state with the physical beauty of both Adam and Eve fully open, without reservation or embarrassment. Sin brought about hiding, embarrassment, and eventually a continuing decline into sexual perversity as an indicator of the heart of rebellion against all of God’s law [Romans 1:24-32]. This book shows that sexual desire, far from being wrong, is intended to provoke a passion for union with another person so that all one’s emotional energies, sexual pleasures, and desire for intimacy in personality are concentrated on that one relationship. This heightened expression of the sexual attachment involved in love and marriage is designed canonically to manifest how deeply and all consuming is the love of Christ for his church. Our desire for the knowledge of him and a participation in all his benefits must become so ineradicably embedded in our affections that we will desire him when we walk by the way, when we lie down at night, when we awake, when we reflect on his beauties and his perfect provision for our eternal well-being and exuberant joy.

 

I. Note the consistent refrain of warning not to awaken love before its proper time. [ see 2:7; 3:5; 8:4}

A. The woman puts the young women of Israel on oath, for her advice, born of deep experience, will help them cope with their proneness to emotion and the awakening sexuality.

B. Twice she points to the gazelles and does of the field, probably as an example of how compelling and fierce a sexual drive can become if not disciplined by a rational spirituality, a determination to use one’s propensity for intimacy in a way that focuses on one person as God had ordained.

C. They should not, therefore, seek to stir themselves up to romance, or put themselves in a position where their desires will be provoked, until such a time as is appropriate for love. The entire book is a statement as to how consuming this desire can be once it is awakened and focused on a particular person. Make sure, therefore, so she charges them in the presence of the Judge of all the earth, that it is this person with whom you are willing to live and to whom you intend to give yourself wholly in the bonds of marriage.

 

II. The two betrothed express their deep desire for each other and their absorbing mutual attraction and they seek ways to be with each other.

 

A. Verse 2-4 - She thinks about his kisses, the allurements of his physical traits, the admiration he evokes from others, and looks forward to the consummation of marriage.

B. Though her background involved mistreatment from her brothers, involving exposure to the elements and difficult work, her features are so striking that even that could not diminish her attractiveness. [5, 6]

C. Though her brothers mistreated her, she has great delight and confidence in her relationship with her love and wants to go to him even as he pastures his flock. He responds and tells her how to find him. (7, 8)

 

III. They utter lively expressions of how all of their senses are awakened by the presence of the other. Sight, smell, taste and touch all come into play in their observations about each other. [1:9-2:6]

A. He uses a striking image to describe her. “A mare among Pharaoh’s chariots” might not seem to be flattering to us, but to Solomon it presented an image of exceptional beauty.

B. She comments on how exhilarating his fragrance is, like nard and myrrh and henna blossoms. These are all perfumes that come from plants and are highly aromatic and expensive. Nard was used for anointing noblemen in Rome. Henna in the vineyard of En-Gedi. ISBE describes En-Gedi. “The spot is rendered attractive by the verdure coating it by reason of immense fountains of warm water, 80 F, which pour out from beneath the limestone cliffs.” To her, the beloved was a vision of rest, beauty, and promised pleasure.

C. They exchange deeply felt fascination with the beautiful appearance of each other. (15, 16); She contemplates the kind of physical surroundings they will have when they marry. She sees herself as in a privileged position, being admired and desired by the beloved. {2:1]

D. He looks at her as far superior in beauty to any around her. “A lily among brambles.”

E. She comments on his exceptional desirability, like an apple tree in the forest, providing both comfort in its shade and sweetness to the taste.

F. She is overwhelmed with the thought of physical contact. His devotion to her [banner over me was love], his lavish provision for her {banqueting house}, make her faint and she needs food to regain her strength. [verse 4, 5]

G. An embrace so enthralls her and gives her such a tantalizing anticipating of marriage that she issues her first adjuration to the daughters of Jerusalem. [verses 6, 7]

H. This couple could have sung with John Denver, “You fill up my senses, like a night in a forest, like the mountains in springtime; like a walk in the rain, like a storm in the desert, like a sleepy blue ocean. . . .come let me love you, let me give my life to you, etc.

 

IV. The bride contemplates their relationship

A. She describes the unparalleled physical beauty and prowess that she admires and loves in him, and she knows that he too is flooded with intense longings for her. {verses 8, 9)

B. She recounts the words of her beloved to her.

¨      He notes that all nature has waked up, and spring now confirms the awakened and ever-fresh desires they have for one another. He sees her and hears her voice in all the scenes and sounds of nature. [verse 10-14]

¨      He warns her that they must not let petty disappointments or overly critical observations spoil the loveliness and power and promise of their mutual love and joyful expectations. [verse 15]

 

V. The night before and the day of the wedding [chapter 3]

 

A. She dreams of him and can hardly bear to restrain the desire that she has for their being together; on the realization of the strength of that desire, she again adjures the daughters of Jerusalem to be patient in awakening such desires.

B. Verses 6-11 - Solomon, the epitome of kingly splendor and power, endues himself with the most impressive display of beauty and symbolic invincibility, all for the sake of coming to get his bride.. He is given a special crown on the day of his wedding, “the day of the gladness of his heart.” Now he comes to the time of uniting with the one for whom he has felt such intense longing; the one that loves him and finds nothing more delightful than the contemplation of his strength, beauty, and love.

 

VI. The consummation of the Marriage

 

A. He compliments every aspect of her physical beauty using images at each point that show how compelling, noble, and alluring her beauty is to him. [4:1-5]

B. He is completely overwhelmed with her beauty and the heightened sensation he feels in seeing her. So powerful is her effect on his sense that he describes the experience as a mountain of myrrh and a hill of frankincense. “You are altogether beautiful my love; there is no flaw in you.” [verses 6, 7]

C. He invites her from the lofty and regal position that she seems to occupy, places pleasant and desirable in the eyes of the world, to be with him. Surely, he implies, my love is better and more appealing than the loftiest and most coveted place as viewed by those outside the perimeter of my love. “Come with me, Come with me,” he says twice. [verse 8]

D. Verses 9-12 - She has captured his heart; all about him is now enthralled in her beauty and overwhelmed with her love. He now describes the filling up of his senses by giving images of sight, taste, smell, touch, the allure of her lips and tongue.

E. She has been kept for him alone. She is a garden enclosed, or locked. His bride, to this point has been a “spring locked, a fountain sealed.”

F. Now she is abundantly fruitful, “an orchard of pomegranates with all choicest fruits,” and abundance of spices and aromatic plants. No longer closed, she is “a garden fountain, a well of living water, and flowing streams from Lebanon.” The love that had been stirred up and awakened, now finds it proper fulfillment.

 

VII. As mentioned above, the awakening sensory nature of this book, should lead us to observe the intensity of Christ’s love for the church and how he gave himself for it.

 

A. These descriptions of the consuming power of love and its desire for union with the beloved should instruct us to contemplate, “In this is love, not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” (1 John 4:10) Combine that with “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lays down his life for his friends” (John15:13)

 

B. Paul points to this reality in Ephesians 5:22-33 and uses language that should be reminiscent of the absorption of the king with his bride to be: “gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor etc. . . .For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes it and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body.”

 

C. The kingly work of Christ in defeating the enemies of our soul by his death when he disarmed “rulers and authorities and put them to open shame by triumphing over them” in the cross. While he did that, he also became a curse for us, absorbing divine wrath in our stead. Like Solomon coming to claim his bride, for Jesus this was “the day of the gladness of his heart.”

 

D. Christ, by his Spirit, awakens in his chosen people, his bride, for whom he came to give his life, a love for him and an increasing knowledge of his infinite excellence and incomparable beauty. He calls us from places esteemed as pleasant and powerful by men, but nothing and less than nothing when compared to the excellence of Christ. When we are raised from death to life by the work of the Spirit, we are raised with him and are seated with him in heavenly places