The Song of Songs

Good evening. Please turn with me in your bibles to Song of Songs. Or it might be in your bibles listed as Song of Solomon. We’ll get to that name in a moment.

We’ve finished up our three-year journey through 1 Corinthians, which was a rich study of the doctrine of Christ and the doctrine of the church. Now I thought it would be good for us to switch to a study of an old testament book.

And as I considered which book to preach next, I thought about several options, and after prayer decided to land in Song of Songs. This book, I trust, will have much to teach us. It emphasizes the purity of our love to God, and it will also speak to the purity of our marriages, which is so desperately under attack in our culture.

Tonight I will give an introduction to the book, which will be a little longer than normal, for reasons that will be apparent shortly.

But let’s begin by reading the first 4 verses of Solomon’s love poetry. Song of Songs 1:1-4.

The Song of Songs, which is Solomon’s.

Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth!
For your love is better than wine;
    your anointing oils are fragrant;
your name is oil poured out;
therefore virgins love you.
Draw me after you; let us run.
The king has brought me into his chambers.

I’ll begin tonight by framing this book a little more than normal, especially because of the confusion and controversy that has surrounded it in the past. On the surface, the nature of the text is clear: it is a love song, or lyrical poetry, describing the love between the beloved woman and the king. Everyone agrees about that.

However, in the history of the church there has not been consensus about how to interpret it, and how to apply it to believers today, or even if that should be even done at all.

If I may be a little over simplistic, there are two poles of interpretation. One camp says that this poetry is simply about human, earthly marriage, and nothing more. It doesn’t represent Israel’s relationship to Yahweh, nor the church’s relationship to Christ. It is simply some poetry describing romantic love within marriage.

On the other pole, there is a tradition of interpreting the book as simply speaking of the relationship between Christ and the Church. They interpret the poetry spiritually and allegorically, without reference at all to the physical realities pictured in the poem.

I think that both of these approaches are deficient. Let’s start with the first one. There are several problems with simply interpreting this as a collection of erotic poetry describing physical, earthly marriage.

First, at worst, this view could turn this book into simply a how-to manual for physical intimacy. When I was younger I saw some of this in a book written by Mark Driscoll out of Seattle. The poetry and its poetic form was simply reduced down to a crass handbook for what kinds of actions were permissible in marriage. This interpretive method misses the poetic genre of the text entirely, and it misses the placement of this book within the entire bible.

Second, a second problem with interpreting this book as simply pertaining to physical marriage, is that you make this book functionally useless to an entire segment of the church, that is, the singles and the widowed. If the book is only about physical marriage, it doesn’t relate to that entire group, and it might even be unhelpful for a single person to approach the book, proving for them to be a stumbling block.

Erotic poetry can be unwise for many young people to embrace, and if that is all that this book is, then those without a spouse probably should avoid it, which would undermine Paul’s statement that ALL scripture is God breathed, and profitable.

Related to that point, number 3, reading this book simply as a manual for earthly marriage would make this book personally useless to Jesus. Jesus had no earthly marriage, and to make this book exclusively about that would have rendered the book of no practical value to Jesus, other than describing to him the proper view of a reality that he’d never experience, namely, an earthly marriage.

Fourth, a fourth problem with the purely earthly interpretation is that such a reading functionally turns the book entirely into law. It turns the book into law. This book describes in a real sense the pinnacle of human marital intimacy. It describes the nearly perfect marriage. And if you read it as simply describing an earthly marriage, it will paint a picture of perfect love and harmony that no marriage on earth can match.

None of us perfectly desires and protects and honors our spouse, and if this book is simply a statement of what marriage ought to be, then each of us will be crushed by the description. It is describing a reality that can never be attained in this life, at least not perfectly.

If all it is, is a description of what marriage was designed to be, then we all can look at our spouse, and the problems in our marriage, and be crushed by how far we sometimes are from the standard. This reality is heightened even more when we talk to people in poor marriages. They can’t look at their spouse and desire them like the beloved desires the king, because their spouse is decidedly NOT like the king.

And if we tell people in terrible marriages that this book exclusively describes the way that THEY ought to behave in marriage, we could do real harm. A woman married to a wicked man could be left with the impression that she needs to act like the beloved in this text, which could make her the recipient of even further wickedness. There has to be something more than that in this text, and I believe there is.

Fifth, a fifth and final problem with the view that this book only pertains to physical marriage is that it neglects the placement of this book in the bible. It neglects the teaching of scripture, and the movements throughout redemptive history. We might say, it fails to do biblical theology well.

Israel is described in many places in the Old Testament as the spouse of Israel. She’s accused multiple times of idolatry, and accused in terms of marital unfaithfulness, of harlotry.

Indeed, the book of Hosea, where the prophet is told to go marry a harlot, was an earthly marriage explicitly commanded by God to illustrate the spiritual marriage of Israel of Israel to God. Hosea was a picture of a faithful man married to an unfaithful bride, just like the Lord was faithful, and yet married to an unfaithful bride.

And then the New Testament picks up this theme even more clearly when Paul describes the relationship between Christ and the Church in terms of a marriage. God escalates the picture, ramping up the imagery, and reveals to us that the people of God are married to a perfectly faithful king and husband. And the purely physical reading of this book misses all of this.

Now, turning to the other end of the spectrum, we have what we might call the purely spiritual view. This view, which has the bulk of church history behind it, can have its own problems as well. This view interprets the book as simply a picture of the relationship between Christ and the church, and either implicitly or explicitly neglects ANY connection to the earthly and physical reality of marriage love.

A major problem of such an interpretive scheme is that it can ironically undermine the goodness of marriage. It can undermine the goodness of marriage.

Some people view the erotic language in this book as crass and worldly, as language unbecoming of a Christian, and unfit for discussion, especially in the church. But what can often lie behind that assumption is a faulty view of physical marriage. We see this in the early church, where there was a tendency to view spiritual things as holy, and earthly things, like passion and love, as worldly, and therefore unholy.

That’s part of the reason why so many interpreters in the early church viewed sexual activity as simply an accommodation to man’s depraved condition, and it was only to be acted upon for the purposes of procreation, and even then, you better not enjoy it.

What that view does is neglects God’s own purposes and design. God created marriage. It was his idea. Physical intimacy within marriage is His creation and plan, and he declared it Good, very good.

So any reading of this book that implicitly or explicitly operates as if physical marital intimacy is shameful or problematic, ironically turns a book about marital love into something that disdains that exact love. And that won’t do.

Another problem with this view is that it fails to recognize the nature of the book. It fails to recognize the nature of the book. This book is placed in the category of wisdom literature. That’s why it’s placed by Proverbs and Ecclesiastes. It’s meant to teach us something about how to live in this world.

And part of that lesson is how to operate within marriage. If the first view places too much emphasis on the earthly lessons of this book, then this view places too little. We ought to be pushed a little bit. We ought to be convicted when we see sacrificial love and longing described in such poetic beauty. We ought to learn something about the nature of love and the power of union.

If we simply read the book as a theological treatise about Christology or the doctrine of the church, then we shortchange the book, and reduce the benefit that we can glean from it.

So how then ought we to read the book? I think we should read the book for what it is, a song of romantic poetry, written by king Solomon, describing the relationship between a man and a woman, while keeping in mind the book’s placement within the history of redemption, which points us to a deeper spiritual reality of the true King and his love for his bridegroom, the church.

Now, with the interpretive background in place, I’d like to frame the book a bit more, to better help us see its placement in the storyline of redemption.

Consider the setting of the book. The book is set largely in two places, both of which have significance. It’s set in a garden, and in Zion, or Jerusalem. A garden, and in Zion. Both of these places have significance for us.

The garden takes us back to Genesis, where we saw marriage in its purity. The husband and wife are together, sharing communion, both naked and not ashamed. And there is something of that flavor throughout this book.

But Zion pictures something even further. Zion is where the temple was, where man could commune with God again, even after sin was brought into this world. There’s a restored communion and fellowship. Marriage was broken by the fall, but not lost entirely. Communion was shattered, but not irretrievably.

Both of these settings will come up again and again as we go throughout the book.

Another thing we need to keep in mind is the nature of the book itself. The book is often called Song of Solomon, because it was written by King Solomon. But if you look at the very first verse, you’ll see what the book calls itself: “The Song of Songs.”

This repetition is a tool used in Hebrew to provide emphasis. Think about other similar names: the Holy of Holies is describing the holiest place in the world. The Lord of Lords and the King of Kings, these are superlative titles, ascribing to God supremacy. He’s the king over every other king, and he’s the Lord over all other Lords. He has no equal.

Likewise, this song is the song of all songs. It’s the best and the highest. It’s describing realities that are truly described elsewhere in scripture, but it is doing it in a different form, in a poetic form. We can’t read this book exactly like we read 1 Corinthians, with Paul’s attention to logic and detail.

It’s poetry. We are being invited in, using lyrics and verse, to taste a bit of the sublime. We’re taken up, into realities that can’t be merely assented to mentally. We’re invited to taste and to touch and to hear and to experience what’s going on in the drama. Poetry is the proper form for such descriptions of these realities.

Let me illustrate the point. If I told you this statement: that “God sovereignly and providentially provides for and protects all of his elect ones against any threats, therefore we should not feel anxious”, you’d probably agree. It is a mental affirmation of propositional truth. But it can feel sterile and cold, clinical. Technically precise, but not affective, and not really aesthetically pleasing.

But if I used poetry to make the same point, I could say this: The Lord is my Shepherd. I shall not want. I’ve conveyed the same truth as the previous statement, but in different form. Poetry uses language to take images that we already know, and ascribe them to profound realities, in order to stir the affections. Poetry can reach into us, and teach us things, and stir the affections in a way that propositional truth can struggle to do.

Now, I think that’s probably enough introduction. I hesitated to give so much of it, but I think it is important, and it will help us read our bible better.

Let’s get into the text, and we’ll notice the first point: the Desire for communion. The desire for communion.

The Song of Songs, which is Solomon’s.

Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth!

Let him kiss me. The beloved is expressing a desire here for communion, or intimacy. She sees and knows of him, and finds him desirable. We don’t know why yet. But we’ll soon see. We’re first made aware of her desire.

Notice that she seeks kisses. Not simply a handshake or a hug. She wants intimate fellowship. She wants to feel his breath. There’s a desire for closeness. For communion.

This is the kind of desire that was present and available before the fall. Adam and Eve were created in the garden. They were made for one another. Adam was perfect and upright, but he was not complete. Something was missing. He needed another, a helper.

The need for a helpmate was highlighted by God himself. God paraded all the animals in front of Adam for him to name them, but also to accentuate that Adam had no companion. And so God put him under a deep sleep, took a rib from him, and fashioned Eve. They were from the same substance, Adam from the dust, and Eve from Adam. They were linked from their very origin.

And Adam responds to this new companion with what? With a theological treatise? With a commentary on Divine action? No. He responds with poetry: “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh. She shall be called woman, because she was taken out of man.”

And the text says that this relationship is why a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. They were made for one another, and it is fitting and good that they that were made separate, should be made one.

Moses goes on to say that they were naked and not ashamed. Perfect communion and harmony. What would it be like to have a marriage where there is no shame? No frustrations. No shortcomings. No fear of being misunderstood, of being cast off. Not a bit of worry about what the other is thinking.

That’s what marriage is meant to be. Perfect fellowship between man and woman, both sharing perfect communion with God. No strife. No arguments. No bitterness. No coldness. Only warmth and desire.

And that’s what the beloved longs for in this text.

But we all know the story. Adam and Eve would not remain in their desirous purity. Satan comes in to tempt. Genesis three tell us this, about desire:

So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be DESIRED to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate.

She desired something, but desired the wrong thing. Her desire for the forbidden led her to disregard God’s clear and good command. And sin was brought into the world. And the result had immediate and tragic impact upon her relationship with her husband.

God says in his curse to the woman: “Your desire shall be contrary to your husband,
but he shall rule over you.”

Her once good desire is now perverted, it is contrary to her husband. And rather than sharing in communion and intimacy, the man and the woman seek to dominate and to rule. Strife and contention will reign where sweetness and fellowship were once experienced.

And that same problem remains for each of us today. We don’t desire the right things. We don’t desire the good of others, but rather seek to snatch good for ourselves, like they snatched the fruit from the tree.

We don’t experience peace and harmony, but rather we bicker and quarrel. We don’t speak with poetic joy about God’s good gifts, but rather grumble and complain about what we don’t have.

And all of this is because we’ve chosen to ignore God and his word. Satan has tempted each of us, and we’ve taken the bait, just like Adam and Eve. Now we’re all prone toward sin. We’re all born with a desire for disrupting communion, both with God and with our loved ones.

Indeed, as Genesis 4 says, sin is crouching at our door, and it’s desire is against us. All the world and the flesh and the devil want to see our demise, see the destruction of our communion, both within marriage and with God.

And man has taken the bait. Romans 1 teaches us that every single person is this way. We’re born in sin and we exchange the truth of God for a lie. We DESIRE to worship created things, rather than the creator.

We reject God’s plan for us to find our desire fulfilled in him alone. Our heart’s desire is placed on things that could never suffice.

Consider what you desire most. Do you desire the praise of men? Do you want to be well thought of, to be honored, to be fawned over, to be liked? If that is the greatest desire of your heart, it will never satisfy. The creation can never ultimately satisfy.

Do you desire to be wealthy? To feel safe because you have plenty of money, or to buy all the stuff that your heart could ever want? If that’s the greatest desire of your heart, then be warned, you’re on a fool’s errand. The creation can never ultimately satisfy your desire. Solomon of all people knew that.

The desire that we all have in the core of our hearts is to be in fellowship with our creator, true intimate communion, in perfect love, without any fear. And it is that desire that is pictured so poetically for us here, and is pictured in every healthy marriage.

To be fully known, and to be fully loved and embraced. We have a picture of it here, but the reality is far greater. Perfect communion.

Let’s keep reading and see this communion described. That’s my second point: the communion described:

For your love is better than wine;
    your anointing oils are fragrant;
your name is oil poured out;
therefore virgins love you.

The beloved is using the highest of praise to describe the love of the king. And using several of the senses: taste, smell, and touch. The love of the King is better than wine. It’s more valuable than refreshing drink. If wine can gladden the heart, then my king’s love can do far better.

Everybody wants this kind of love. A love that is durable. A love that is not judgmental. A love that brings security. A love that brings peace.

Poets throughout the ages have written about that kind of love, and their longing for it. Whether it is Shakespeare or Milton or John Donne, all the way up to today, in our music. The Beatles, Bob Dylan, Freddie Mercury, Adele or Taylor Swift. Everybody longs for that kind of love.

And what kind of love is being pictured here? Let’s think about genuine love.

First, Genuine love brings a sense of security and safety. We see this in all of our lives, and in all layers of society. Orphans long for it, widows grieve the loss of it, singles crave it, and spouses ought to protect it. To be loved, truly loved, provides a feeling of safety that lets you take on the world.

But also Genuine love seeks the good of the beloved. Love is an emotion that is outward focused. It’s impossible to be loving towards someone when you’re focused on yourself. But true love has its gaze fixed on the beloved. Its heart is focused on something or someone outside of itself, and it seeks the good of the beloved.

And that leads to the next observation. Genuine love is willing to give. It’s not selfish. True love is not concerned with using others to get what it wants. Rather, true love is willing to sacrifice, to give, to honor, to cherish another because of what is found lovely in the beloved.

Lastly, this selfless-ness leads Genuine love to be willing to suffer for the sake of the beloved. Genuine love is willing to suffer for the good of the beloved. Men are willing to go to battle to protect those whom they love. Wive’s are willing to bend over backwards to bless their husbands whom they love. Parents of every generation sacrifice much of their own comfort and ease in order to seek the good of their children. Love, true love, is willing to climb mountains and plumb depths in order to see the good of the beloved.

And in each of these dynamics of love, let us remember the greatest lover who has ever lived: Jesus Christ.

We said that love provides a sense of safety and security, and is there anything more secure than salvation in Christ Jesus? The bible teaches us that no height or depth, no ruler, no spiritual being, nothing in the future, nothing in all of creation can separate us from the LOVE of Christ Jesus our Lord, Romans 8:38-39.

The hymn writer says this of Christ’s love:

The love of Christ is rich and free;
Fixed on His own eternally;
Nor earth, nor hell, can it remove;
Long as He lives, His own He’ll love.

That means that Christ’s love is durable, resilient, and therefore it brings with it a sense of safety. Nothing can snatch us from the hands our loving shepherd. That sense of security that we all crave, it will only be found in Christ Jesus.

Likewise, we saw that genuine love seeks the good of the beloved, and how clearly is that seen in Christ’s own love. He came to provide good for his bride, the ultimate good, the eternal good, which is to restore his bride to full communion with him.

He wasn’t selfish when he came, concerned with how he could increase his own status and worldly fame, but was singularly focused on honoring his Father and caring for his bride. He’s a model for what true love ought to be, and he’s the perfect example of what seeking the good of another ought to look like.

Further, we said that genuine love is willing to give, and so reflect on how lavishly Christ gives to his beloved. Even when we were rebels and enemies of God, Christ died for his bride. He gives and gives and gives, from beginning to end.

He gives mercy to the once merciless.

He gives forgiveness to the condemned.

He gives the water of life to the thirsty, that they may never thirst again.

He gives the bread of life to those starving in soul.

He gives holiness to those that are defiled and dirty.

He gives glory to those clothed in dishonor.

You were bought with a price, and Christ willingly paid that Price, at the cost of his own life. Christ gives what only he can give, and he gives it liberally, generously, because of his affection for his beloved.

Lastly, we said that True love is willing to suffer for the beloved, and herein we see the apex of Christ’s glory.

He who knew no sin, became sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

Or, Indeed, as the gospel of John tells us: greater love has no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.

Do you want to know what true love looks like? Look at Jesus. Look at the cost. Look at his condescension, his coming down, at his taking up the servant’s towel and the wash basin to wash the feet of those whom he loves.

Therein, in the face of Jesus, you will see what true love looks like. And when you’re trusting in him, your own heart can be stirred. We love because he first loved us, John says. And it’s only when we get our relationship with Jesus right, with the true bridegroom, that we’ll ever be able to make progress in our own marriages now.

Your love is better than wine indeed.

But how do we get this kind of love? If it is indeed so desirable, if we find Christ’s love lovely, how do we experience it? Let’s look at verse 4 and see the means of our communion.

Draw me after you; let us run.
The king has brought me into his chambers.

The bride has a plea, a prayer even. Draw me after you. Take me with you, you could translate it. Let’s go away and be together. Such romantic language is evocative. It is fitting. The beloved and the lover delight in their presence, and long for communion and intimacy.

And such a prayer is also fitting for the Bride of Christ. We long for communion with Christ. And such communion is possible only through faith. Trusting in Christ and renouncing our allegiance to all other lovers, all other idols that might draw our affection away from Jesus.

Do you long to feel loved, to feel protected and cherished, then trust in Christ. Believe in him. Hear of his love, how he cherishes his bride, how he washes her and makes her clean through his word, how he adorns her with jewels and precious ointments. He delights in her, because she is made lovely through his own love.

And this prayer isn’t just for the start of the Christian life. Many of us have gone through seasons where we feel distant from Christ. We feel coldness, we feel lethargic in soul, distant from the one who used to captivate us.

When we feel that way, this should be our prayer: Draw me after you, and let us run.

Pull me back, Lord Jesus. Give me that sweet communion that we used to have. Help my soul to cherish no other before thee, and grant me that fellowship. Let me taste again of your love, which is better for me than wine. Let me smell again of the sweet anointing oil of the Holy Spirit. Bring me to you, that I may never flee from your arms again.

That’s the cry we should make, the prayer we should pray.

And one of the comforts that Christ has given to his bride is the promise that he will be with us, unto the end of the age. Even when Christ FEELS far from us, the table of the king reminds us that he is not ever far from his bride.

He sustains us, even through the desert of this age. He feeds us, by reminding of the sacrifice he made on our behalf.

If you’re trusting in Christ and cherishing communion with him, devoted to his word, and to the fellowship of the church, and to the breaking of bread at the table, and to prayers, then join us in the taking of these elements at the Kings table.

But if you do not have Christ as your king, then first be united to him by believing, and join yourself to his bride in the local church, then you can share in communion with us at the table.

I’ll pray, and then we’ll come up to the front through the center aisle, and then make our way back to our seats along the edge. We’ll also have someone walking around with the plates for anyone who can’t make it up to the front.

Let’ pray.


You might also like...