Title: The Song of Songs
Text: Song of Songs 5:10-16; 7:1-9; 8:6
Truth: God intends for love in marriage to be ongoing and growing.
Shirley Winters was an American actress whose career spanned almost six decades. Winters died in 2006 at 85 years of age. She won two Academy Awards and was nominated twice more. Her resume’ included winning a Golden Globe and being nominated five times more. Her trophies include an Emmy. She first won acclaim when she joined the cast of Oklahoma. Shirley was rarely out of the news. Her four stormy marriages, her romances with famous stars, her forays into politics and feminism causes kept her name before the public. She claimed “conquests” of leading men which included William Holden, Sean Connery, Burt Lancaster, Errol Flynn, and Marlon Brando. If you don’t know those men, just substitute the five leading men of today.
I watched an interview of her on a talk show as she was promoting her latest book. Of course, the talk show host wanted to gossip about her adulterous encounters with famous men like Marlon Brando and Sean Connery. They laughed their way through that part of the program as she made personal comments about these famous men. When they went to commercial break, I said to Carol that the problem was that they would fail to mention the dark side of the adulterous lifestyle.
The program came back on and quite by accident Shirley Winters made a statement about loneliness. The host asked, “Are you lonely?” “Yes, I am,” she said. “There are times when I wake up in the middle of the night and wish I weren’t alone.” Finally, someone told the truth. Her lifestyle is promoted as exciting and pleasurable. The truth is that it leaves people lonely.
In Genesis 2:18, God said that it was not good for man to be alone. After this, He fashioned Eve as the perfect partner for Adam. We were created for relationship with God and one another. If Shirley Winters had known the Song of Songs and lived it, she may have avoided much of her loneliness. Her Jewish roots would have pointed her to this God-inspired book.
Let’s do a survey of the book. Then I have two lessons to share with you about relationships.
Look at Song of Songs 1:1: “The Song of Songs, which is Solomon’s.”
The Hebrew language doesn’t have modifiers like “very.” Words are repeated to emphasize a thought. Isaiah said of God that He is, “Holy, holy, holy.” He is very, very holy. Jesus is referred to as the King of kings. He is the Sovereign above all sovereigns. We know from I Kings 4:32 that Solomon wrote 1005 songs. This is the best of the lot. This song stayed on the top of the charts the longest. To use our terminology, it was the bestselling and most requested of all his songs.
The scholar’s debate over Solomon being the author. Maybe what is meant that is this song is in the fashion of Solomon’s wisdom literature. Regardless, it was recognized as inspired literature from Israel’s God.
The Song of Songs is a poem between lovers who are soon to be married and then are married. That’s about all the plot you can find to the book. Lately, I’m leaning toward the opinion that it is a collection of love poems. Regardless of its organization, it is an extended statement illustrating the wonder of human love as a gift from God.
Our world carries physical love to excess or perversion. The Christian community has tended to overreact and lean toward asceticism. Song of Songs strikes a wonderful balance of extoling and celebrating human love within God-given boundaries. Those boundaries are a heterosexual couple practicing sexual abstinence until married. Societies opinion may have changed but God’s opinion has not.
Around 100 A.D., a document was found of a Jewish rabbi interpreting this book as an analogy of God’s love for Israel. It’s read on the eighth day after Passover. We don’t know how the rabbis read the book before that time. The Early Church Father’s of the second and third century saw Song of Songs as an expression of Christ’s love for his church. The book is never used or quoted in the New Testament to support passages that speak of Christ as the bridegroom and the church as the bride. This is to say, I think the best way to interpret this book is the obvious way it is presented. God intends for love in marriage to be ongoing and growing. If a study of this book doesn’t kindle the fires of love and cultivate a more expressive love, then your wood is wet!
The language is vivid without being pornographic, intense without crossing the line into immorality, and personal without violating privacy. You’ll study one of those passages in Sunday School next Sunday. How’s that in promoting S.S. attendance!
A rough outline of the Song of Songs goes like this:
The Couple’s Courtship (1:2-3:5).
1:2-4: Oh, that he would kiss me with the kisses of his mouth! For your caresses are more delightful than wine. (3) The fragrance of your perfume is intoxicating; your name is perfume poured out. No wonder young women adore you. (4) Take me with you — let’s hurry. Oh, that the king would bring me to his chambers.
When a book starts like that you know you are in for some good stuff!
2:4-5: “He brought me to the banquet hall, and he looked on me with love. (5) Sustain me with raisins; refresh me with apricots, for I am lovesick.”
You may be familiar with the phrase, “His banner over me is love.” That’s the literal translation of v.4b. A large banner was used to regroup troops on the battlefield. It was visible and obvious. Everyone could see that the young man loved the Shulamite maid. If people were to listen in on your conversations or watch your treatment of one another, like a banner would it be obvious that you love one another? What does your banner say?
This story is legendary in my family. Carol and I have been married five or ten years at this time. She’s shopping in the grocery store and I’m sitting in the car waiting. I’m probably reading a book or studying. An older couple park near me and both get out to go into the store. She’s in better health and is spry. He’s bent over shuffling along and can’t keep up. The woman has to stop a couple of times to wait on him. She turns and looks at him with impatience and irritation. Her banner was not pronouncing love for this old man.
I got to imagining their life. He went to work every day, decade after decade. He provided a home and a comfortable lifestyle for his wife and children. I imagine he did this without complaint. This is what a provider does. Now his health has suffered, and she resents having to slow her step for this man. By the time Carol has got back to the car, I’m worked up. I described to her what I saw. Then I tell her that if that should ever happen to us, she’d better never treat me with such disrespect. I’ll leave a mark with my cane! I don’t think I said that. What does your banner say?
Look what he says to her in 1:9: I compare you, my darling, to a mare among Pharaoh’s chariots. He is not saying she is big enough to pull a chariot. Horses were uncommon. Only the wealthy had them. He means you are as attractive to me as a beautiful mare who gets the attention of the stallions that pull Pharaoh’s chariots. This was the height of compliments.
The Couple’s Wedding Procession (3:6-11).
The custom was for the groom to come for the bride and snatch her away from her home. He would take her back to the home in which he had prepared for her. This was preceded by the best man blowing a trumpet to announce his coming. At his home, a lavish feast would be prepared to celebrate the wedding. Family and guests from near and far would all gather. Does that sound familiar to you? Jesus used this scene to describe the Second Coming. The Second Coming is our wedding day for eternity!
The Couples Marriage (4:1-8:14).
The couple is married. Does the romance stop? Not on your life.
4:1--How beautiful you are, my darling. How very beautiful! Behind your veil, your eyes are doves. Your hair is like a flock of goats streaming down Mount Gilead.
Now isn’t that the most beautiful thing you’ve ever read, ladies? With her face veiled, he concentrates on her eyes. Like doves, they are soft and sparkling. Her hair is soft and flowing as it falls on her shoulders. He is reminded of a flock of black sheep streaming down a hillside in Gilead. The sheep of Gilead were nearly all black. These are agricultural people and pastoral scenes are beautiful and meaningful to them.
4:2--Your teeth are like a flock of newly shorn sheep coming up from washing, each one bearing twins, and none has lost its young. (3) Your lips are like a scarlet cord, and your mouth is lovely. Behind your veil, your brow is like a slice of pomegranate.
Her teeth are white, shiny, and regular; and she has all of them! That’s an accomplishment when you consider the dental hygiene of that day! She has a beautiful, attractive smile. Her lips were red, and her cheeks were blushed.
(4) Your neck is like the tower of David, constructed in layers. A thousand shields are hung on it —all of them shields of warriors.
She carried herself with a graceful, regal bearing. The strength and erectness of her neck, ornamented with jewelry, reminded him of David’s fortress bedecked with the shields of the hero warriors of Israel.
(5) Your breasts are like two fawns, twins of a gazelle, that feed among the lilies.
The gazelle was an animal celebrated for its form and beauty. He comments on her tender and delicate beauty.
In chapter five, the honeymoon is over, and they have set up house. Look at her description of him in 5:10-16:
(10) My love is fit and strong, notable among ten thousand. (11) His head is purest gold. His hair is wavy and black as a raven. (12) His eyes are like doves beside flowing streams, washed in milk and set like jewels. (13) His cheeks are like beds of spice, mounds of perfume. His lips are lilies, dripping with flowing myrrh. (14) His arms are rods of gold set with beryl. His body is an ivory panel covered with lapis lazuli. (15) His legs are alabaster pillars set on pedestals of pure gold. His presence is like Lebanon, as majestic as the cedars. (16) His mouth is sweetness. He is absolutely desirable. This is my love, and this is my friend, young women of Jerusalem.
Have you seen a picture of Michelangelo’s marble statue called David? It is magnificent. The muscle definition is so masterful that it almost appears to be alive. This picture comes to mind when I read this description of the Shulamite’s husband.
I have time to cover two things that hinders an ongoing and growing love in our relationships.
I. LOVE IS DIMINSHED BY A LACK OF PERSONAL ATTENTION (S OF S 5:10-16)
Both are very focused on noticing the details about the other. She starts at his head and goes down. He starts at her feet and goes up.
Dale Carnegie’s 1936 classic How to Win Friends and Influence People tells the story of Carnegie’s interview with a well-known bigamist of his generation. The man was married to several women at the same time. Carnegie asked the rather plain-looking man how he was able to persuade so many women to marry him? The bigamist said he simply got the women to talk about themselves and he just listened. In other words, he gave them personal attention. By the way, I should add the interview took place in prison!
Donald McKay says there are four steps down in marriages: Romanticism, Reality, Resentment, and Rebellion. Do you know what you must do to go through these steps? Nothing. Do nothing to counter these stages and this will happen to you.
The explanation for us being poor lovers or lacking close friendships is that we lack personal attention. Our pace is so frantic from one appointment to another that we don’t have the time to notice much less practice giving personal attention.
Human love and friendship, if left, alone will decay. No amount of Bible study, prayer, scripture memory, and church going can substitute for personal attention. The primary way to meet the physical and psychological needs that we all have is to be cherished and adored by someone.
Someone said most marriages go flat by small leaks rather than a big blowout. What could you do this week to give personal attention to the people that are important to you? Maybe it’s as simple as planning to have lunch together, shooting hoops, or taking a walk together.
A man told about being on a flight to Los Angeles when the pilot announced that a world-famous cheerleading squad was aboard and would be strolling the aisles singing “Happy Birthday” to anyone who had a birthday that month. When they finished singing, he asked if he could interview the married members of the group for a book that he was writing. He spent more than an hour with two of them. One had been married for a year and the other for three years.
He started the interview by asking what the single greatest disappointment in their marriages was. Each said it was nearly impossible to get their husband’s undivided attention unless he had ulterior motives.
The author said that he wasn’t surprised that they gave the same answer. He had heard it from hundreds of women, young and old, attractive and unattractive. He said that the “inattentive husband” seems to be a universal complaint among women. Both cheerleaders said they had given up hope of seeing a change in their marriages! They had already moved from Romanticism to Reality and maybe Resentment in a year to three years.
Don’t give up. Someone must start paying attention. Be diligent. Get the Lord involved. Watch Him make changes. God intends for love in our relationships to be ongoing and growing.
Chapter seven points out another lack in our relationships which tends to diminish human love.
II. LOVE IS DIMINISHED BY A LACK OF LEISURE (SONG OF SONGS 7:1-9)
Notice that the man’s description starts at her feet and moves up. They are married and it is more intimate.
How beautiful are your sandaled feet, princess! The curves of your thighs are like jewelry, the handiwork of a master. (2) Your navel is a rounded bowl; it never lacks mixed wine. Your belly is a mound of wheat surrounded by lilies. (3) Your breasts are like two fawns, twins of a gazelle.
(4) Your neck is like a tower of ivory, your eyes like pools in Heshbon by Bath-rabbim’s gate.
Your nose is like the tower of Lebanon looking toward Damascus.
He’s not saying that she has a big nose. The towering Lebanon mountains were beautiful and breathtaking. I remember the first time I saw the Rocky Mountains. I grew up in the shortgrass, rolling hills and ravines of northwest Oklahoma. Many days of my childhood were spent in the hills and forest of southeast Oklahoma. I’d never seen anything like the Rocky Mountains. It is that kind of awe he expresses over the beauty of his bride.
(5) Your head crowns you like Mount Carmel, the hair of your head like purple cloth —a king could be held captive in your tresses. (6) How beautiful you are and how pleasant, my love, with such delights! (7) Your stature is like a palm tree; your breasts are clusters of fruit. (8) I said, “I will climb the palm tree and take hold of its fruit.” May your breasts be like clusters of grapes, and the fragrance of your breath like apricots. (9) Your mouth is like fine wine.
I’m impressed with the man’s creativity. Creativity doesn’t come in a hurry. It takes time.
I was reading a book on preaching. The author asked what it takes to preach good sermons? I suppose the standard answers would be things like prayer, thorough study, the Holy Spirit, being gifted to preach, or any number of other things. The author’s answer surprised me. He said time. Dr. Garland was an O.T. professor at SBTS in Ft. Worth. He used to tell our class that we preached our sermons to quickly. We needed to give them time to grow a beard. I’ve been a pastor since 1982. That’s a lot of talking. My experience confirms time is a key ingredient in preaching good sermons. Time to study, pray, and think are indispensable. What’s true of preaching is true of your love life. There’s no shortcut to knowing another person but taking the time to hear them out, express your love, and to know them.
You have time for work, even to be punctual. When duty calls, you can even make time for overtime. Some of you may even find time to moonlight. We make time for the game on Friday night and Saturday and Sunday! It’s a high priority. For relationships to be ongoing and growing in love, we need to find time to know them and how to love them.
Let’s read 7:11-12:
(11) Come, my love, let’s go to the field; let’s spend the night among the henna blossoms.
(12) Let’s go early to the vineyards; let’s see if the vine has budded, if the blossom has opened, if the pomegranates are in bloom. There I will give you my caresses.
At this point, the honeymoon is over; but they are still finding time to be together. Out of 52 weeks in the year, filled with many responsibilities, could you find a couple of weekends to leave the kids with others or have someone else check on parents so the two of you could relax and enjoy one another? Of course, there are those minivacations on the back porch without any distractions or responsibilities. Like this couple, these things must be planned.
Thomas Carlyle lived from 1795 to 1881. He was a Scot essayist and historian. During his lifetime, he became one of the world’s greatest writers. However, he was human, and humans make mistakes.
On October 17, 1825, Carlyle married his secretary Jane Welsh. She was an intelligent, attractive, and somewhat temperamental daughter of a well-to-do doctor. They had their quarrels and misunderstandings, but still loved each other dearly. After their marriage, Jane continued to serve as his secretary. After several years of marriage, Jane became ill. Being a hard worker, Carlyle became so absorbed in his writings that he let Jane continue working for several weeks after she became ill. She had cancer, and it was one of the slow growing kind. Finally, she became confined to her bed. Although Carlyle loved her dearly, he very seldom found time to stay with her long. He was busy with his work.
When Jane died, they carried her to the cemetery for the service. That day was a miserable day. It was raining hard and the mud was deep. Following the funeral, Carlyle went back to his home. He was taking it very hard. He went up the stairs to Jane’s room and sat down in the chair next to her bed. He sat there thinking about how little time he had spent with her and wishing so much he had a chance to do it differently. Noticing her diary on a table beside the bed, he picked it up and began to read in it.
Suddenly he seemed shocked. He saw it. There, on one page, she had written a single line. “Yesterday he spent an hour with me and it was like heaven; I love him so.” Something dawned on him that he had not noticed before. He had been too busy to notice that he meant so much to her. He thought of all the times that he had gone about his work without thinking about and noticing her.
Then Carlyle turned the page in the diary. There he noticed written some words that broke his heart. “I have listened all day to hear his steps in the hall, but now it is late and I guess he won’t come today.” Carlyle read a little more in the book. Then he threw it down and ran out of the house. Some of his friends found him at the grave, his face buried in the mud. His eyes were red from weeping. Tears continued to roll down his cheeks. He kept repeating over and over again, “If I had only known, if I had only known.” It was too late for Carlyle. She was gone.
After Jane’s death, Thomas Carlyle made little attempt to write again. The historian said he lived another 15 years, “weary, bored and a partial recluse.”
I tell you this story, so you won’t make the same mistake. While your family needs the money you make, it is the love you have that they really want. Let me repeat that so you don’t miss it. While your family needs the money you make, it is the love you have that they really want. Give it now before it is too late.
Every marriage and friendship eventually get beyond the honeymoon stage. The flaws are seen and no longer excused. This is when we really learn to love because love is a choice. We choose to do them good, forgive the hurts they cause, confront them with the truth, and despite all of that, we remain committed to one another. Don’t you see in that the gospel?
Jesus loves us with an everlasting love. He saw into the very depths of our sin-filled heart and still forgave us by dying on the cross for our sin. That was His choice. He did this for the world, and He did this for you. Someone stressed this by saying if you would have been the only sinner in the world to be saved, He would have gone to the cross for you. I don’t think that is hyperbole. I believe it is true because He loves you that much. This is why the psalmist said He is “my” Shepherd. He wants to spend all of eternity with you.
The real love story is Jesus and the church, and Jesus and you. The Bridegroom is asking for your hand in marriage. Will you say yes? Will you turn from your sin and follow Jesus as your Savior and God? Then join me at the front and I will introduce you to the Lover of your soul.
Father, the Bible says You loved us before we ever loved You. We know that is true because Jesus died for us while we were still sinners. Jesus promised to forgive us and reconcile us to Himself even when He knew we would fail and repeatedly sin against Him. What amazing love!
Father, someone listening has doubts about Your love for them. Holy Spirit, help them to know the personal, passionate, and permanent love of God. We know this is not just religious talk because the cross is the undisputed demonstration of Your love for us. Regardless of whether we know good times or bad, the cross declares that You love us like a groom loves his bride.
May the beauty of love found between the man and the woman of the Song of Songs warm our love for those you have put in our life. As we grow deeper in Your love, let others experience more of our love for them. We want this for our family, friends, and our church.
We’re not the biggest church in town. In many ways, we’re not the best church in town. Those things may never be true of us. Still yet, please help us to be one of the most loving churches in town.
In the name of our loving Savior, Jesus. Amen.
I didn’t know this verse was in the Bible. The last part of Zephaniah 3:17 says, “He will delight in you with singing.” When my other grandkids were little like four-year-old Maggie, I made up songs that told them how much I loved them. I didn’t know that God did that for you and me!
It is a joy to give to those who we love and who love us. No one loves you like Jesus. This is why the time of offering will always be a part of our worship. In fact, an argument could be made that the offering time is the most joyous time of worship because we are giving to the work of the God who sings over us.
Father, we have sung of our love and worship of You. What a beautiful thought that all this time you have been singing about Your love, care, and provision for us. So, fill our heart with joy that we will give generously, eagerly, and repeatedly.
In the name of our loving Savior, Jesus, Amen!