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(I assure you, this will be a “G-Rated” sermon) You don’t hear too many messages on the Song of Solomon, and most people don’t know what to make of this earthy, poetic book. To add to the confusion it goes by three names: you’ll see it as Song of Solomon, Song of Songs and Canticles. Some find it embarrassing, and wonder how it ever got included in our Bible; yet a learned Rabbi (Akiba ben Joseph) declared this brief book is the “Holy of Holies”. Perhaps because, as Paul put it, “the greatest of these is love.”
Theologians flatten the Song of Songs into an allegory describing God and Israel or Christ and the church--treating the romantic text as some elaborate code (Capon). The Bible treats intimacy as a normal, positive, spiritual and vital part of life (and, by the way, so did the Puritans). Like all gifts from God, sex can be enjoyed or abused. It can be celebrated in marriage or misused in what’s commonly called “recreational” or “casual” sex. Song of Songs shows us how mature, enduring love is expressed. The context of Song of Songs is marriage. The author describes love in ways we describe salvation. Married love is a covenantal relationship that follows the pattern of divine love--meaning that the love of a man and a woman is a foretaste of Heaven. The New Testament describes believers as the “bride of Christ.”
But not all marriages are heavenly. According to Business Week magazine, Hallmark is printing fewer Silver anniversary cards because so few couples make it to 25 years of marriage. The divorce rate is appalling. Yet according to Song of Songs, “Many waters cannot quench love” (8:7)…that is, if it’s true love. What poses as love today is a faulty mix of romance and hormones, which equal disaster. People often search for love in destructive ways. We fall into infatuation; we feel sensually aroused; we choose love. Genuine love is an unconditional, sacrificial, mature, compassionate, lifelong commitment.
Song of Songs portrays a picture of ideal human love, but the personal relationships for which we were created were marred in a garden. Once Eve began to question God’s love, this created an opening for sin. Turning from God damages human relationships; the moment Adam and Eve were caught, they blamed each other. Sin produces selfishness which hinders our ability to love, and cheapens sex by turning it into lust. Turn on your TV; you’ll see a lot of lust (with cultural approval) but not much love. Lust is idolatry; it’s burning a candle to another god. Love is blessed, consecrated when we see God as our greatest Lover, Who gives us a capacity for life-changing love. “We love because He first loved us.”
This suite of love songs teaches that the value of love expressed between a man and a woman is reserved and limited in reverent exclusiveness. A recurring theme of Song of Songs is loyalty to one’s beloved. When we say “I do” to our spouse, we’re saying “I don’t” to everyone else. In a real marriage we fall in love many times--always with the same person. We can infer from the bond between the shepherd lover and his beloved that Solomon’s polygamy, while tolerated, was not God’s preferred will.
Faithfulness in marriage runs against secular notions of total freedom in self-expression.
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