Summary: The gift of intimacy as described in Song of Solomon is wonderful, but its development comes with restraints.
Today is the first Sunday of February. Some of you will soon be shopping for valentines, trying to find one with just the right message to express your feelings of friendship or love and romance.
• You might look for the biggest card you can find. I did that one year. It was so big I had to hand-deliver it.
• You might order flowers. A 20-year-old guy told his girlfriend he would send her one rose for every year of her age. The florist liked this guy because he was a good customer and decided to throw in an extra dozen roses. The guy is still trying to figure out why he no longer has a girlfriend.
• You might try writing your own poetry. I’m sure you can do better than the poems a newspaper published after a contest for poems with the best first line and the worst last line. Here are two:
Roses are red, violets are blue,
sugar is sweet, and so are you.
But the roses are wilting, the violets are dead,
the sugar bowl’s empty and so is your head.
Of loving beauty you float with grace.
If only you could hide your face.
Song of Solomon.
The book of the Bible we are looking at today is a collection of poems that are much better. They speak of the ecstasy of romantic love. Listen to these lines:
Ah, you are beautiful, my love;
Ah, you are beautiful;
Your eyes are doves.
Ah, you are beautiful, my beloved, truly lovely.
Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away.
Let me see your face, let me hear your voice,
For your voice is sweet, and your face is lovely.
How beautiful you are, my love, how very beautiful!
Your eyes are doves behind your veil,
Your hair is like a flock of goats moving down the
slopes of Gilead. Your neck is like the tower of
In some verses, though, the language is so explicit that some people have concluded that God must not have meant it that way, so they interpret this book as a metaphor or allegory for God’s love. A French preacher in the 11th century, Bernard of Clairvaux, preached 86 sermons on this book without ever mentioning sex.
But if we take the simplest reading, these poems are about two lovers who passionately desire, marry, and satisfy one another. So we can think of the Song of Solomon as a celebration of marriage, the most intimate and intense of all human relationships. And we shouldn’t be surprised to find it here. After all, marriage is an institution that God designed.
Back in the Garden of Eden, God blessed Adam and Eve. We read in Gen. 2 that “a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife and they become one flesh.” Jesus quoted the same words Matt. 19. Marriage provides the highest kind of intimacy when it is found in a pure, beautiful, and committed relationship. That is the ideal picture and in Song of Solomon the passion of that relationship is described with utter abandon and satisfaction. After all, God has created everything good, we read in I Tim. 4:4. That includes sex. So no wonder we read lines like:
Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth!
He brought me to the banqueting table and his intention toward me was love.
I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine.
Call for restraint.
But in this book of poems, we see more than passion and romantic display. We find a note of restraint as well, a caution that recognizes the possibility of too much too early. We find it first in 2:7.
Do not stir up or awaken love until it is ready.
We find this line again in Chapters 3 and 8. God’s word is pointing out something very important. It reminds me of something I used to teach about communication in college classes – the idea that relationships develop step by step. If you move too fast in a friendship, you jeopardize the stability of the relationship. If you share too much about yourself too quickly, you might scare the other person off because he or she is not ready to reveal that much.
So the words Do not stir up or awaken love until it is ready, help us see that premature expressions of love are not healthy. Love is more than skin deep. True love does not just appear fully grown. It is not something you produce on demand. True love requires time; it requires a certain maturity. Unfortunately, sometimes people mistake their emotional feelings for love. Love is a quality centered at the core of our being and to misuse the deepest expression of love in a relationship that has not yet developed to that level is to violate God’s intention.