The Senses of Love, Part 1

Good morning. Please turn with me in your copies of God’s holy word to Song of Solomon, chapter 1. The Song of Solomon, chapter 1. I am continuing to work my way through this book of poetry.

As we saw last week, this book is a work of lyrical poetry, or song, and it was written by king Solomon, and it is an artistic expression of love between a man and a woman, a shepherd king, and his betrothed woman. This love is described in various stages, from initial longing all the way through marriage and consummation.

Thus far in the poem the woman and the king are engaged. They aren’t yet married. They long to be, as we will see, but they aren’t there yet. They are anticipating, eagerly looking forward to that day, but it hasn’t arrived yet.

Much like the church today, which Paul describes as the bride of Christ in Ephesians 5, we belong to our king, we have been pledged as His, but we eagerly await the final consummation, when He returns and we live perfectly with him for all of eternity.

Today, we will note in our text that the author is using all 5 of the senses (taste, touch, sight and so on) to teach us about love. Thus, the title of the sermon, “love and the senses, Part 1.” In this sermon and the following we will examine each of the 5 senses as they are used in this section.

In previous generations they would have described this kind of poetic language as “sensual,” meaning tied to each of our senses. The poetry is intentionally evocative, emotive, it is meant to affect us at a level deeper than mere head knowledge. It’s aimed at stirring the heart, at moving the affections.

This scene that we will read involves a back and forth between the betrothed bride and her beloved king. Let’s begin reading in Chapter 1 vs. 12:


12 While the king was on his couch,
my nard gave forth its fragrance.
13 My beloved is to me a sachet of myrrh
that lies between my breasts.
14 My beloved is to me a cluster of henna blossoms
in the vineyards of Engedi.


15 Behold, you are beautiful, my love;
behold, you are beautiful;
your eyes are doves.


16 Behold, you are beautiful, my beloved, truly delightful.
Our couch is green;
17     the beams of our house are cedar;
our rafters are pine.

I am a rose[a] of Sharon,
a lily of the valleys.


As a lily among brambles,
so is my love among the young women.


As an apple tree among the trees of the forest,
so is my beloved among the young men.
With great delight I sat in his shadow,
and his fruit was sweet to my taste.
He brought me to the banqueting house,[b]
and his banner over me was love.
Sustain me with raisins;
refresh me with apples,
for I am sick with love.
His left hand is under my head,
and his right hand embraces me!
I adjure you, O daughters of Jerusalem,
by the gazelles or the does of the field,
that you not stir up or awaken love
until it pleases.

The Bride Adores Her Beloved


The voice of my beloved!
Behold, he comes,
leaping over the mountains,
bounding over the hills.
My beloved is like a gazelle
or a young stag.
Behold, there he stands
behind our wall,
gazing through the windows,
looking through the lattice.
10 My beloved speaks and says to me:

“Arise, my love, my beautiful one,
and come away,
11 for behold, the winter is past;
the rain is over and gone.
12 The flowers appear on the earth,
the time of singing has come,
and the voice of the turtledove
is heard in our land.
13 The fig tree ripens its figs,
and the vines are in blossom;
they give forth fragrance.
Arise, my love, my beautiful one,
and come away.
14 O my dove, in the clefts of the rock,
in the crannies of the cliff,
let me see your face,
let me hear your voice,
for your voice is sweet,
and your face is lovely.
15 Catch the foxes for us,
the little foxes
that spoil the vineyards,
for our vineyards are in blossom.”

16 My beloved is mine, and I am his;
he grazes among the lilies.
17 Until the day breathes
and the shadows flee,
turn, my beloved, be like a gazelle
or a young stag on cleft mountains.

Let’s begin by noting the first sense in our text. We might say this point is: The Smell of Love. The smell of love.

The woman begins by imagining herself in the presence of her beloved. She describes him as if he is right there with her:

12 While the king was on his couch,

He’s reclining on the big sofa-like piece of furniture that people would sit on during a banquet. There is a celebratory mood being implied here, but unlike a feast, there is no crowd in her imagination. She is alone with him, and she’s close to her beloved.

So close, that the smell of love is permeating the space. She says:

my nard gave forth its fragrance.

Nard, or your translation might say “Spike-nard” was a precious perfume that was exotic and expensive. It was normally only had by the wealthy, and even then, only used on the special occasions.

So we have the smell of her fragrant perfume in the air, building the anticipation. The smell also serves as a delightful prelude to their embrace.

But the pleasing smell isn’t only from her. The woman describes her beloved in terms of sweet smelling items also. She says in verse 13:

13 My beloved is to me a sachet of myrrh
that lies between my breasts.

14 My beloved is to me a cluster of henna blossoms
in the vineyards of Engedi.

The scene is building. They are close enough to smell one another, further increasing the intensity. She describes him like a packet of fine smelling spice that hangs from her neck. It’s as if his smell always resides next to her, near her very heart.

The aromatic language in this scene is reminiscent of other portions of scripture that describe well pleasing smells. It makes me think of Noah, right after the flood, in Genesis chapter 8. Do you remember what the text said?

Noah got out of the boat, made an altar, and took some of the clean animals and offered them as a burnt offering to the Lord, and the text said that his offering was a Pleasing aroma to the Lord. The sacrifice pleased the Lord.

The same language was used in exodus 29 and later in Leviticus to describe the Lord’s response to the giving of a fitting offering. God’s people obey the Lord, offer sacrifices for their sin, and the Lord is pleased to smell the result.

Now, it is not as though the Lord has nostrils like we do, nor does he have an Olfactory sense of smell like man. But the biblical text makes clear that God is pleased when a satisfactory sacrifice is made. His holy anger toward sin, is now satisfied. His judgement stops. And instead he is at peace with his people, and he speaks a word of blessing to his people.

All of this smelly language is in the background when we get to the New Testament. What does this pattern teach us when we get to Ephesians 5, and Paul says, “walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God”?

Christ gave himself as a fragrant offering? That means that we could say that his atoning work had the effect of pleasing the nostrils of the Lord.

The Lord had holy anger against a sinful people, but Christ’s fragrance satisfied that anger, appeased that wrath, and pleased the Lord.

In fact, that means that in Christ, none of us are offensive to the Lord any longer. Before we trust in Christ, we have sin, and that sin makes us repulsive, unpleasant to the nostrils of the Lord, we might say. Sin makes us unworthy. It makes us unclean. We can’t be near to our beloved. We’re unwashed and dirty.

But because of our beloved’s work on our behalf, we’re not repulsive anymore. In fact, we’re the opposite. We’re made lovely. We’re perfumed. We’re like the woman in the text, with the scent of our precious ointment filling the room, filling the nostrils of our beloved king.

But, let’s press the image even further. If we were to get a bit full of ourselves, and to think too highly of our own work. If we were to get arrogant, and think that some of this loveliness and holiness is because of our own doing, then answer this question: where do you think that the woman in the text got her nard? Where did her expensive ointment come from?

The answer is her king gave it to her. Nothing in this book tells us that this woman comes from wealth. Nothing in here would give us the indication that she could have gotten it on her own; if anything, I think the text tells us the opposite. I think we’re intended to see that she’s anointed with sweet smelling perfumes because her wealthy king has given it to her.

And the same is true for each of us. Whatever is pure and lovely in us, whatever is delightful and refreshing, whatever is pleasant to the nostrils about us, is simply the result of people smelling the gift that our king to us. They smell the holy spirit working in and through us.

All of it is grace. That means that we have no reason to boast. It’s all of grace. Any progress in the Christian life, any growth in holiness, any movement toward our great king, is all because of the king’s prior work in us. So, let us remain humble and grateful.

And let us seek to take that gift of a fragrant sacrifice, that Christ has made on our behalf, and imitate him. How can we imitate Christ and be fragrant ourselves?

Let’s also seek to give up our own bodies as living sacrifices, as Paul says in Romans.

Or we can be generous with our possessions, like the Philippians were in chapter 4, where Paul describes their generous gift to him as “a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God.”

You see we are to give off the aroma of our great king wherever we go, and whatever we do.

Paul says in 2 Corinthians 2 that we’re all part of victory march, a “triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere. 15 For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved.”

The aroma of Christ.

If I may continue with the analogy by asking you this question: how do you smell? Spiritually speaking, how do you smell? What fragrance do you exude?

When you look at yourself and your actions, would people find your presence and your behavior a pleasing aroma? Is the room sweeter because you walk in? Or is the room made more pleasant when you leave?

Does God find you to be a pleasing fragrance? Does anyone?

If you’re not trusting in Christ, then I want you to know that this theology of smell doesn’t stop here. The bible speaks more about smell and aroma.

In fact, Exodus 15 speaks poetically of God using his nostrils as an instrument of judgment. This is Moses’s poetry right after the Exodus through the Red Sea:

“At the blast of your nostrils the waters piled up;
the floods stood up in a heap;
the deeps hardened in the heart of the sea.
The enemy said, ‘I will pursue, I will overtake,
I will divide the spoil, my desire shall have its fill of them.
I will draw my sword; my hand shall destroy them.’
10 You blew with your wind; the sea covered them;
they sank like lead in the mighty waters.”

God simply blew his nose, and the mightiest army in the world sank like lead to their death in the red sea.

Similar language is used in 2 Samuel 22 and Psalm 18. Hold your finger here, and Turn to Psalm 18 for a moment. David is using poetic imagery to describe God’s judgment over David’s enemies. David picks up and repeats imagery from God’s judgment at the Exodus event, but he also escalates it, picking up themes from the judgment of Sodom, and even angelic pictures, Cosmic language, pointing us forward to a greater judgment to come:

From his temple he heard my voice,
and my cry to him reached his ears.

Then the earth reeled and rocked;
the foundations also of the mountains trembled
and quaked, because he was angry.
Smoke went up from his nostrils,
and devouring fire from his mouth;
glowing coals flamed forth from him.
He bowed the heavens and came down;
thick darkness was under his feet.
10 He rode on a cherub and flew;
he came swiftly on the wings of the wind.
11 He made darkness his covering, his canopy around him,
thick clouds dark with water.
12 Out of the brightness before him
hailstones and coals of fire broke through his clouds.

13 The Lord also thundered in the heavens,
and the Most High uttered his voice,
hailstones and coals of fire.
14 And he sent out his arrows and scattered them;
he flashed forth lightnings and routed them.
15 Then the channels of the sea were seen,
and the foundations of the world were laid bare
at your rebuke, O Lord,
at the blast of the breath of your nostrils.

This is the power of our king. Answer me this question: If his mere breath can create this magnitude of cosmic turmoil in judgement, what his arm will do? what his sword will do? That sword is what awaits anyone who doesn’t come and bow the knee to the king.

If you haven’t trusted in Christ, then I urge you to do that today. Without Christ, you are like smoke in the nostrils of our lord. You’re sinful and unclean. But by trusting in Christ, you can be washed, made pure through his word, and become a pleasing aroma because of Christ’s fragrant offering in your place.

Trust in Christ. Come to the shepherd-king. As Psalm 2 says, Kiss the son.

That’s all I will cover regarding smell today. I bet you didn’t think you’d hear a theology of smell when you showed up to church today.

Let’s move onto the next of the 5 senses: the sight of Love. The sight of love.

We move into another section of the poetry, where the sense of sight is front and center. The couple takes turns describing one another. And as we go through, I want you to take special note of the back and forth. The tempo of the poetry increases, almost like we’re meant to feel the exhilaration of love itself.

Rather than long winded monologues, there’s a back and forth. And there’s even reciprocity in what they say. The use each other’s words, build off of each other’s sentences, continue the imagery and expand it. It’s like they are dancing, admiring one another more and more with each graceful movement.

It begins with the king speaking to his beloved:


15 Behold, you are beautiful, my love;
behold, you are beautiful;
your eyes are doves.

He complements the look of her eyes, which we remember Jesus saying are the lamp of the soul. If the eyes are pure, then the whole body is pure, and the king says that his beloved has eyes as pure and innocent as doves. She doesn’t have sharp, serpent like eyes, which cut others and reveal a hardness of soul.

Rather, He finds her appearance lovely, graceful, innocent even. Dove-like.

And then the woman takes a turn. Using language that is echoing her man’s, the woman says:



16 Behold, you are beautiful, my beloved, truly delightful.

She repeats the accolade of beauty that her king had just given to her. It’s like they are following Paul’s exhortation in Romans which says to outdo one another in showing honor. They find each other lovely, and they take turns saying so. In that way there is a clear example for all of us to follow.

Am I diligent and consistent to praise my spouse? Not simply to notice their beauty, or to even admire it. But do I consistently and joyfully verbalize my admiration. Some men especially fail here, thinking that it’s better to be a stoic, John Wayne type. I told her on my wedding day I loved her, and if that ever changes, I’ll let her know.

All that man is doing is harming himself by harming his bride. Foolishness. Take time to complement. Use your eyes, and let them stir your heart in godly ways.

Out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks, Jesus says, and if your mouth NEVER overflows with words of love to your spouse, what does that say about your heart?

Examine your words, or lack of them, and you’ll usually see what’s going on in your heart.

Back to our text. They love each other and praise each other’s appearance. But then she changes the focus. Her eyes move from her beloved, to the place of their repose. She says:

Our couch is green;
17     the beams of our house are cedar;
our rafters are pine.

She’s describing their home. When she says that their couch is green, she’s not referencing the color. It’s not like the 1970’s when we had avocado green furniture and walls. No, think green like psalm 23:

The Lord is my shepherd…
    He makes me lie down in green pastures.

The focus is on the fruitfulness of place, not on the color. The place of their intimacy is a place of fruitfulness. When she and her king are together, love is in abundance, and the result of their union is fruitful. You all can read between the lines there.

But we should also note that part of the reason there can be this expectation of fruitfulness is because the work that the king has done. She says of their home; the beams are cedar and the rafters are pine.

There is substance to their home. It is sturdy. It is not a flimsy tent, or a shaky lean-to. She feels safe in his presence, protected in his home.

In fact, I think that Solomon wants the readers of this poetry to be drawn back to an earlier time. A time in the bible when man and woman were alone. Their physical appearance was pure and dove-like.

Solomon is hinting in this section—by using language of green, and trees, and fruit—that the purity of their love is like a return to Eden, where the man and woman were naked and not ashamed. Where there were no thorns or thistles, no strife in relationships.

But as we all know, Adam and Eve wouldn’t stay there. They broke God’s command, stole what wasn’t theirs, and plunged this whole world into chaos and disorder.

Rather than a green couch, and joyful and fruitful childbirth, woman was cursed with terrible pain.

Rather than a safe and secure place of repose in the garden, they brought danger into the world, thorns and thistles, and they were exiled from the garden of Eden.

That’s what the fall has done to everyone this side of Eden. Marriages are hostile and fragile.

Fertility and pregnancy are painful and dangerous. The marriage bed is no longer green, but becomes more of a battle ground for domination, rather than a place of mutual honor and service.

I wonder if any of this sounds familiar to you? I’m sure each of us has experienced such dynamics, all of which result from sin’s terrible presence.

But take note of how THIS passage is describing kind of the undoing of the fall. Unlike the curse, there is beautiful harmony.

Rather than desiring to dominate each other, the man and the woman delight in the sight of each other. They’re like Adam and Eve again, unashamed to be seen.

And unlike the curse, which brings pain in childbirth, the couple here experiences fertility. Their bed is green. There is fruitfulness, rather than cursedness.

I think Solomon is describing something that was lost in the losing of Eden, but that not even himself experienced. Which means he’s pointing us forward to something greater.

In fact, I think he’s looking forward to a better king, a king that not even he can measure up to. He’s describing a king that will honor and praise his wife. A king that is completely delighted at the sight of his bride.

A king that will provide a place of protection and safety, safer than any beams of cedar or rafters of pine could ever afford.

And a king that will ensure a fruitfulness that no curse could ever touch.

And that king is Jesus Christ, the true son of David, the last and better Adam.

You see, Christ praises the sight of his bride, just like the king in this passage. He delights in her appearance, because she is robed in His very righteousness. Just like the smell of the nard, the radiant appearance that the bride of Christ possesses, is itself a gift from the king.

We’re clothed in the righteousness of another. We’re made beautiful through the beauty of our savior. We’re washed by the water of his word, we’re made pure and clean through his faithfulness as the great bridegroom.

Unlike Adam that let his wife be defiled and cursed, this last Adam bore the curse for the defiled bride, so that she might be pure and radiant forever.

And this last Adam also builds a protected and secure place for his bride. The first Adam should have killed the snake and protected both the garden and his bride, but he failed to do so.

But his last Adam has built a new place, a new and better Eden, where no snakes can come in and deceive the bride unto her death. Nothing can separate us from the Love of Christ Jesus our lord, and that means we’re safe.

But unlike a house with cedar beams and pine rafters, which might wear out over time or get termites and decay, we’ve received a kingdom that cannot be shaken, Hebrews 12 says. Not we will receive, but he have received this kingdom that cannot be shaken. The land of our king is impervious to decay. It’s a place of perfect safety and security.

And unlike the first Adam, who stole the forbidden fruit and also robbed his bride of unmarred fruitfulness, Christ ensures that his bride will rest on a green bed. When Christ and his bride are united, there is fruitful abundance. Their union bears fruit.

Sometimes that fruitfulness looks like the church in the book of acts, where the Holy Spirit is poured out and thousands are saved. Sometimes we see numerical fruitfulness.

Other times the fruitfulness is less noticeable, and the spiritual fertility of the union is seen in the bearing of another kind of fruit, like: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, goodness, and self-control.

Wherever Christ the king and his bride are truly together, there is growth. It may be perceivable in terms of numbers, or maybe not. But true love between the bride and her beloved will result in spiritual fruitfulness.

And so the question for us is this: do I SEE the fruit of love in my life? Am I more patient than I was a year ago? Am I more kind? Am I living a life that people would look at and say “he has self-control?”

Or am I impatient when others fail me or annoy me?

Am I unkind to those that don’t really matter?

Am I enslaved to things around me, rather than in control of myself?

It’s the fruit of the spirit that makes the bride beautiful, because Christ is the one who anoints his bride with His own Spirit. As we grow to be more like Christ, we grow in loveliness and beauty in his sight.

But to the extent that we fall short, we need to repent. We need to confess to the Lord where we have failed, and ask him to wash us again. Make my garments clean. Lord, make me lovely, make me beautiful in the sight of others, and in your sight.

We can pray with the Psalmist: Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
be acceptable in your sight,

If you look at yourself, and you don’t see perfect loveliness, then I encourage you to think about the king described in this poetry. Think about the king of kings that is pictured here. No other savior loves like he loves, no other earthly king or queen could ever satisfy you like he can.

No other religion could ever make you feel as loved and embraced like Christ can. Every other religion tells you to clean yourself up and make yourself lovely. But only Christianity tells you first of good news: that Christ has died for the unlovely, in order that they might be made pleasing in his sight.

Trust in this Jesus, and find yourself lovely. Believe in his promises, and you will find yourself growing, and bearing lovely fruit, the fruit of the Holy Spirit, which will become a pleasing aroma to the king of kings, and to others around you.

I’m going to have to stop here. At the beginning of the week I intended to get through all 5 senses in this passage, but alas, I’ll have to save the rest for next time.

Let me pray to our shepherd king, and ask him to bless us with the beauty that can only come from his Spirit.


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